Algerians have lost faith in poll process
Algerians have lost faith in poll process
They believe the election will do nothing to address the lack of jobs for young people, mainly university graduates, and large-scale corruption Algeria has a staggering bank reserve of $200 billion (Dh734 billion) from oil and gas revenues — though the people are not benefiting from this
By Mohammad Bin Madani, Guardian News & Media Ltd
Published: 00:00 May 11, 2012
Algerians voted for a new parliament Thursday. The big question is whether this process will turn out to be as successful as the recent ones in neighbouring Tunisia and Morocco.
Forty-four political parties and 7,646 candidates have battled for 462 seats. By having so many contenders, the government hoped that Islamist parties will be squeezed.
What makes this election interesting is that previous opposition parties, such as the Socialist Forces Front which boycotted the elections in 2002 and 2007, have taken part this time. Its leader, Ali Laskri, explained that his party’s participation was in the interest of the unity of the country.
Another novelty in this election was the presence of a large number of foreign observers — from the Carter Centre, the National Democratic Institute, the European Union, the Arab League and the African Union. The government wanted this election to be seen as free and fair, though Said Sadi, former leader of Rally for Culture and Democracy, whose party boycotted the election, argues that foreign observers will simply give legitimacy to President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika’s regime.
Many Algerians do not care about voting because they no longer trust the ruling party and believe the election will do nothing to address the lack of jobs for young people, particularly university graduates, and large-scale corruption.
At present, Algeria has a staggering bank reserve of $200 billion (Dh734 billion) from oil and gas revenues — though the people are not benefiting from this. According to a recent report of the International Monetary Fund, youth unemployment in Algeria stands at 21 per cent (two-thirds of the population is under the age of 35).
On April 29, police in the town of Jijel ordered Hamza Rechak, a 27-year-old street vendor, to stop trading or face confiscation of his stock, which consisted of a few packets of cigarettes. Refusing to accept the harassment and humiliation, Rechak set himself on fire and died in hospital two days later.
Corruption, which many regard as an intrinsic part of the regime, could have driven many Algerians to vote for the Green Alliance Algeria party, formed last year as a coalition of three former Islamist parties — the Movement of Society for Peace, the Islamic Renaissance Movement and the Movement for National Reform.
The Green Alliance’s ideology is similar to that of the Islamist political parties in Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey. It has well-organised local supporters and good candidates who have been actively campaigning and, despite bitter memories of the Islamist insurgency in the 1990s, Algerian experts believe the Islamists will gain many seats.
Despite the government’s efforts to persuade people to vote, some well-known politicians, such as Sid Ahmad Gozali, a former prime minister, and Said Sadi, had called for a boycott on the grounds that the election will be “a foregone conclusion”. On April 29, a group of civil servants held a protest in the centre of Algiers, calling for a total boycott of the election.
The Algerian press has reported that during the election campaign, political party leaders had not been able to convince people to vote. Reporters said that their speeches contain simply attacks on other political parties and no programme for the future.
All political parties except the Islamists had included some female candidates for this year’s election. The National Liberation Front chose Asma Benkada, former wife of the TV preacher, Shaikh Yousuf Al Qaradawi, but she has no political experience and has lived in Qatar for many years. The women selected by other parties are all university graduates and have worked as lawyers, civil servants and journalists. In the last national assembly, only 11 per cent of MPs were women.
Beyond this week’s parliamentary election, questions are also looming about the presidency. Bouteflika’s mandate ends in 2014 but, as a result of his past illness, some observers doubt he will complete his term of office. This means Algerians will go to the polls again in 2014, if not before.
The prime minister, Ahmad Ouyahia, delivered his final campaign speech on May 6 at Tipasa. The correspondent of El Watan newspaper reported that he ended by saying: “Recent Arab revolutions which engulfed our brothers and friendly countries such as Iraq, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are the work of Zionism and Nato.” His audience simply laughed.
Algerians in general are not expecting much from this election. They believe it’s more of the same, that parties make promises but they will only serve their own interests, and that parties and MPs will not address their main concerns. After the election, it will be business as usual.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd
Mohammad Bin Madani is editor and founder of the Maghreb Review.