Algerian elections offer gradual change
Opposition parties cautiously optimistic that they might make gains, but few voters show up to vote.Yasmine Ryan
Young voters are likely to abstain en masse amid fears over the election’s credibility [Reuters]
Early reports in Algerian media suggest that turnout in Thursday’s parliamentary elections has been low.Speaking on state television late on Thursday, Daho Ould Kablia, interior minister, said 34.95 per cent had voted by 16:30 GMT.
The government has said a turnout of 45 per cent would be a “success” and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika made a plea to young Algerians to at least cast blank votes rather than abstaining.
That is lower than 35 per cent recorded in 2007, but many Algerians are deeply suspicious of official figures.
Voter participation is the statistic of most concern to the authorities. These elections would be different, officials promised, but there weremany calls for boycotts in the lead-up to the vote.
The ruling National Liberation Front has dominated the country’s political life since the country won independence from France 50 years ago, but has been forced to offer room to a broader range of voices after uprisings toppled governments in other North Afican countries, including Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
These elections are expected to make more room in parliament for a coalition of Islamist parties, competing under the umbrella of the Green Alliance.
Aboudjarra Soltani, head of the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), was hopeful his party would do well in the vote.
“This [election] is a referendum about the Algeria’s spring, and Algeria’s spring we want to create here in Algeria,” he told the Reuters news agency. “We make it happen through elections and I think elections is the only way to build the future of Algeria, the future of youth and the people.”
The secular Socialist Forces Front (FFS), the oldest and one of the most credible opposition parties in Algeria, is also expected to make a strong showing.
The campaign was not an easy one for the party, which faced criticism from some of its members for choosing to participate in the election. Some of its candidates were subjected to police interrogations.
Mustapha Bouchachi, a candidate for the FFlist in the capital, said he had a degree of faith in the authorities’ promises of a fair election, given the regime’s need for some kind of endorsement from an increasingly jaded population.
Because of what has happened in the rest of the region, there has been progress made in terms of democracy inside Algeria, the opposition candidate said.
“For these reasons, I don’t think they will tamper with the results to the extent that they usually do,” he said. “But of course, I doubt the results will be 100 per cent.”
“The FFS is participating in these elections because we need to change things peacefully, and if there isn’t real change, there is a risk that things could turn violent,” he told Al Jazeera.
“We are participating to help save Algeria, and to put an end to the totalitarian regime that has run the country since independence.”
Voting was generally calm, but there were some reports of violence and disorganisation.
Some representatives for the FFS faced bureaucratic barriers in registering their observers, the party said in a statement signed by Ali Laskri, the party’s spokesperson.
The party denounced the omission of the names of its candidates in some voting booths in Algiers and Constantine.
In Bab El Oued, the working class heart of Algiers, the streets winding down to the seafront were unusually silent and the youth’s mood was one of bitter resignation.
“I switch on the TV set and I see election coverage on the state channel. It’s like news from a foreign country,” Mohamed, a 30-year-old employed by a water delivery company, told the AFP news agency.
“It’s not Algeria, it’s the land of those people in power.”
Some young Algerians wished each other “happy no-vote day” on Facebook.
Other youths were more vocal in their protest against the election.
Groups of youths attacked voting booths in the northern town of Saharidj, anti-riot police were sent in after groups of youths destroyed voting urns in several schools and barricaded the roads into the town with burning tyres, the Algerian daily El Watan reported.
One Algerian woman, who preferred not to give her name, told Al Jazeera that the voting booth was calm and uncrowded when she cast her ballot in Bir Mourad Raïs, a town on the outskirts of the capital.
“Even if I know that this election won’t change much, this was a way of making sure that those calling for violence don’t win,” she said.
While the woman faced no difficulties casting her own vote, she said there were some people unable to vote because their names were missing from the list.