The first news of an election result from Thursday’s Algerian parliamentary elections has trickled in.
It appears that the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale, or FLN) has won 220 of the 462 seats in the parliament.
The National Rally for Democracy, the party of Algeria’s current prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia, won second place with 68 seats, giving the government a comfortable majority at a time of incredible disenchantment within Algeria.
The alliance of Algeria’s top Islamist parties, the so-called ‘Green Alliance’, won third place with just 48 seats, fewer seats than the parties previously held in the prior parliament, even though the number of seats in Algeria’s parliament has been expanded by 73 seats.
The Socialist Forces Front appears to have won 21 seats (it currently had no representation) and Louisa Hanoune’s Worker’s Party has won 20 seats (down from 26 in the previous assembly) — both are leftist, secular parties. No other party won seats in double digits.
Color me skeptical, but I have doubts about just how free and fair the elections were on the basis of a result that gives the government a comfortable majority — the government also claims that turnout has been just under 45%, which is significantly higher than the 2007 election and after a campaign noted for massive apathy about the efficacy of Thursday’s vote. The Green Alliance has already alleged widespread fraud on the basis of its own observations.
The FLN has ruled Algeria since 1962, and is itself a manifestation of the resistance group that fought for independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Algeria’s bloody war against France. It is the ossified party of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has attempted to use the parliamentary election as a showcase of limited reforms that he has claimed have led to a more open Algeria in the face of ‘Arab spring’ protests in the Middle East, protests that have forced three longtime dictators out of power in North Africa since January 2011.
In the wake of protests in Algeria last year, Bouteflika, who has been president of Algeria since 1999, lifted the ’emergency rule’ under which Algeria had been subject since its own bloody civil war in the early 1990s — that civil war itself sprang from a 1991 parliamentary election won by Islamists, the results of which were subsequently rejected by a military coup designed to block Islamists from taking power in Algeria.
Larbi Sadiki writes in Al JAzeera that the elections actually serve as a dress rehearsal for Algerian politics after the end of the 75-year-old Bouteflika’s reign — Bouteflika’s term is currently scheduled to end in 2014:
Bouteflika, like the regime he presides over, looks more like an oddity after the departure from power of all the North African septuagenarians ousted in the Arab uprisings of 2011. And the regime, like its head, is tattered by old age – not to mention corruption, lethargy, and dwindling legitimacy….
The way they will vote will mirror the overall state of segmentation in Algerian politics: the haves who rely on the state for livelihood and selective benefits, and those who have their backs against the wall (known as the hittistes in Algeria): the unemployed who ceased to be stakeholders in postcolonial Algeria.
Again, the formal/visible/central public and the informal/hidden/peripheral shadowing each other, gravitating towards two poles of politics in Algeria, will shape the current elections by the percentage of people who vote….
The current elections will measure neither majority nor minority. Or will it reveal anything new under the Algerian sun of politics. It will not deliver victories or defeats. Rather, it will offer a barometer by which to gauge the flavour of politics in the Algeria of post-Bouteflika, and, perhaps, the Arab Middle East.