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Algeria Elections: Between indifference, frustration and anger

Algeria Elections: Between indifference, frustration and anger
  • PublishedApril 16, 2014

The Algerian presidential elections are scheduled for April 17 and despite mounting tensions and anti-regime demonstrations, president Abdelaziz Bouteflika is set to be re-elected for a fourth time.

President Bouteflika was first elected in 1999 and was re-elected in 2004 and 2009, having amended the constitution to allow him to stand again. He is credited for bringing back relative stability following the ‘Dirty war’ – a ten-year long civil war that killed around 200 000 people.

Since then the Algerian regime has repeatedly said it wants to build a freer and more democratic country but recurrent reports of opposition crackdown, backroom deals, media control, corruption and poll fixing have refused to die down. 

For many Algerians, elections have now become a tool used by the regime to give some electoral ‘legitimacy’ to its candidate and official rhetoric rather than a way to change leadership.

Five candidates will be competing against the President, including Louisa Hanoune, Moussa Touati, Ali fawzi Rebaine, Abdelaziz Belaid and former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, Bouteflika’s main challenger. Despite the presence of those candidates, the opposition as a political force remains weak and the President is widely expected to win.

Bouteflika’s decision to run for a fourth term came a few months after he suffered a stroke. The regime insists all is well with the 77 year-old, describing him as ready as ever to tackle the numerous problems the country is facing.

Amara Benyounes, his campaign spokesman said recently at a pro-Bouteflika meeting in Paris: “He will manage the country with his head not his feet and his head is working very well.”

“We think that President Bouteflika is the best equipped to lead the country in this period of uncertainty and turbulence in the region”, he continued.

Despite a recent show of unity, members of the pro-regime party, the FLN, did not all welcome the president’s decision to run again and at first, military officers and party leaders blamed each other for the poor governance of Algeria, prompting speculations of major rifts within the party.

Commentators have warned that some of the regime’s actors even benefit from the president’s incapacitation. Fears surrounding the state of the president were further confirmed during his campaign, as he remained conspicuously absent. He was a no-show in all pro-regime meetings, prompting commentators to talk of a campaign ‘by proxy’.

It was instead left to the regime’s figureheads to re-hash the usual official narrative: Bouteflika the Moujahid is the only hope Algeria has, he is the only person able to ensure economic development, stability and order. He is, according to Abelmalemalek Sellal, Bouteflika campaign chief, ‘ the miracle’ the country needed.

Celebrities have even been rounded up to drum up support or the President, putting his campaign’s slogan ‘Taâhadna maâ al Djazaïr’ or ‘Our oath to Algeria’ into a song that again stays all to close to the regime’s rhetoric. It reminds us of the his revolutionary credentials during the war of independence and of his decisive role in stirring the country away from civil war.

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“Let me sing, let me be happy, let me be proud of my president’, the song goes.

In the streets however the mood is more cynical and signs of discontent are more and more apparent. Some pro-Bouteflika meetings have even been cancelled because of protests.

Anti-regime demonstrations have taken place across the country despite repeated crackdown by the regime’s forces and opposition parties have even indulged in a rare show of unity with both secular and Islamist parties calling for electoral boycott.

A nascent middle-class movement called Barakat! (“Enough!” In Arabic) has also made waves. Despite Internet penetration being relatively low in the country, it has made clever use of social media to mobilise anti-regime protesters and up its profile.

Barakat! says it is a independent and non-partisan organisation. It calls for ‘ the establishment of democracy, and of a state subject to the rule of law and justice in Algeria.’ 

Its members affirm they are committed to the republican and democratic character of the state, a claim equally made by the FLN.

The problem it seems, is that while most seem to agree on the need for the Algerian republic to be democratic, concepts such as Republic and Democracy have yet to be fully and openly discussed and debated. For, if for years we have talked about the coming into being of a republican and democratic Algeria, we have yet to agree on what it would or should look like.

Written By
New African

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