Though Algeria quickly became one of the first countries where the ‘Arab Spring’ protests gained momentum three years ago, its longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika is almost certain to win a fourth term in Thursday’s presidential election.
Algerians, like many others throughout north Africa and the Middle East, coalesced in protest of higher prices, massive unemployment and the general lack of economic progress. But with memories of Algeria’s brutal, decade-long civil war of the 1990s still fresh, it was enough for Bouteflika (pictured above) to agree to end the 19-year period of ’emergency rule,’ lift some of his government’s more oppressive measures against political expression and introduce subsidies to lower the price of food and other necessities.
Besides, most Algerians thought, he would be too old at age 77 to run for a fourth term. Nonetheless, despite a campaign to convince Algerian voters to boycott tomorrow’s vote, Bouteflika will theoretically extend his rule through 2019.
But Bouteflika’s reelection campaign says less about Bouteflika than it does about the power struggle bubbling beneath the surface. Frail and unable to walk, Bouteflika suffered a stroke last year and spent four months receiving medical treatment in Paris. No one thinks he’ll last another five years. At a recent meeting with US secretary of state John Kerry, he could barely stand up or and he seemed unable to speak clearly.
So why not groom a successor and let Bouteflika slip into a comfortable retirement? Continue reading Bouteflika headed for controversial fourth term
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. Continue reading FLN wins Algerian election; Islamist ‘Green Alliance’ coalition alleges fraud after weak third-place finish
Shortly after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime fell in Tunisia in January 2011, amplifying the ‘Arab Spring’ revolts to a global scream, the next logical candidate for uprising was not Egypt or Libya or Yemen or Syria or Bahrain.
It was neighboring Algeria.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika had been in office as Algeria’s president since 1999 — and for much of that time, the country had been subject to ’emergency rule’ following a bloody civil war in Algeria that began after the Islamic Salvation Front won Algeria’s first free parliamentary election in 1991 and a military coup annulling the election result. Just as in neighboring Tunisia, young Algerians were protesting against unemployment and rising food costs, and also as in Tunisia, a wave of self-immolations in protest of the government met with escalating crowds and outrage against Bouteflika. Algeria was about as great a candidate for grassroots-led regime change as any other country in the Middle East and Maghreb.
Yet Bouteflika remains in power and was never seriously in danger of losing it. Some commentators suggested that Algerians were wary of toppling a government and risking yet another civil war after the carnage of the 1990s. In addition, Bouteflika deployed a cannier mix of carrots and sticks (police came out in force to contain the protests, especially after Hosni Mubarak’s regime fell in Egypt) than either Ben Ali or Mubarak in his own attempts to hold onto power in 2011. Most notably, Bouteflika agreed to end Algeria’s 19-year ’emergency rule’, raised salaries for Algerian workers and took steps to lower the price of food in Algeria.
Bouteflika also permitted the existence of new political parties, many of which will contest Algeria’s May 10 parliamentary election, which is expected to be Algeria’s first free election since the fateful 1991 elections that sparked Algeria’s civil war. Bouteflika has also expanded the number of members of parliament by 73 seats for a total of 462, all of which will be up for grabs on Thursday. While the parliament’s powers are slim compared to those of the president, it does appear that Bouteflika is making good on his promise of opening Algeria to more democracy.
This time around, though, the threat is whether enough of Algeria’s over 20 million voters will actually turn out to participate (note that over 70% of the country’s 35 million population are younger than 30 years old). The joke from Algeria’s leading political cartoonist Dilem yesterday was that Algerians were passionate about the election — the one to Algeria’s north between Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. Continue reading Algerian election: a battle for turnout