Ruling Party Wins Majority of Votes in Algerian Election
May 15, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
On May 10, Algerians voted in a parliamentary election. As expected, the National Liberation Front, which has been in power since independence from France in 1962, won 220 out of 462 seats. The United States and the European Union have both congratulated Algeria on conducting a smooth election, seeing it as an important step toward reform. The election was a result of President Bouteflika’s attempt to enact limited reforms to mitigate local unrest following the short-lived protests of 2011. In response to the demands of protestors and opposition groups, Bouteflika approved the creation of 23 new parties which participated in last week’s election. However, most groups see government attempts at reform as “window dressing.”
The addition of more parties changed the character of the election to an extent but the same issues with past Algerian elections resurfaced this year. There was a lack of transparency, even though election officials promised to cooperate with foreign observers this year. Despite government efforts to encourage people to vote, the Interior Ministry claimed that only 42 percent of the electorate voted on May 10. However, internal observers suggest that significantly less people participated. It is possible that the government inflated the figure in order to make sure that it surpassed the 2007 election turnout of 35 percent. Another low turnout would have reflected poorly on the government. One opposition party asserted that the voter turnout was less than 20 percent. In the run-up to the election, many opposition groups called for a boycott of the election. Reuters reported that in many neighborhoods in the capital, Algiers, locals ripped down campaign posters on a daily basis.
Agence France-Presse reported from the Berber stronghold of Kabylie, where the vast majority of the population boycotted the vote. Atmane Mazouz, the parliamentary head of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), based in the region, spoke to reporters three days before the election. He said, “Amid the ongoing electoral sham, Algerian men and women are convinced more than ever that the institutions, as crafted by the regime, cannot be a suitable platform for them to express their grievances.” In Tizi Ouzou, residents not only tore down campaign posters but youths overran a road in an attempt to block the delivery of ballot boxes to the city. Popular resentment of the government is so strong that a popular singer from Kabylie had to issue an apology on Facebook to his fans after urging citizens to vote on Algerian state television.
The Islamists only managed to garner enough votes to take 59 seats in parliament. They had hoped to ride the wave of success of Islamist parties elsewhere, as in Tunisia and Egypt. The Green Algeria Alliance, the main Islamist coalition, has accused the government of electoral fraud. Its leader, Bourguerra Soltani, from the Muslim Brotherhood, said the vote “wasted a golden opportunity to achieve the Algerian Spring by the ballot box.” He warned that the type of mass protests seen elsewhere in the Arab world “is only delayed” in Algeria. Shaikh Abdallah Djaballah, a leader of another Islamist party, the Front for Justice and Development (which only won seven seats), reportedly reacted to his party’s poor electoral performance by saying: “these results closed the door on change by the ballot box and the Tunisian option is all that’s left for those who believe in change.” Gulf News reported that the party quickly moved to contextualize and soften its leader’s comments, saying that Algeria will change in its own way.
It is not clear if, how, or when Algeria will change. Most Algerians are apathetic towards politics since they have no faith in the ruling party and the constitution delegates little power to the parliament. Reuters reported that even government employees were not enthusiastic about the election. One civil servant said, “If my father rose from his grave and told me to vote, I wouldn’t do it.” An unemployed man participating in a protest rally organized by an association for unemployed in Algiers told Reuters that he does not trust the politicians and will not bother voting. Another man, in Hadjout (50 miles outside of the capital) said politicians only remember his district during election season and that they have not done anything to combat the rise in prices or fuel shortages. He asked rhetorically, “Where have they been over the past months? They come to our district once every five years.” Despite the accusations of electoral fraud, the Algerian public is not likely to take any serious action against the ruling party for fear of igniting another civil war. After the army cancelled elections due to the victory of an Islamist party in 1991, a decade-long civil war ensued, in which some 200,000 Algerians were killed. In early 2011, hundreds of protestors were injured and several were killed in clashes with security forces. Citizens fear such clashes could snowball into a Syrian-style prolonged conflict.
VOA - EU, US Congratulate Algeria on Elections
AFP - Algeria opposition bastion Kabylie to shun vote
AFP - US hails Algerian election despite suspicions
Gulf News - Algerian party denies street protest claims
Reuters - Algeria election a contest against mistrust, apathy
Majalla - Algeria at the Polls