Parliament poll in Algeria, amid growing popular discontentment
-DR. ABDUL RUFF
Algerians have voted for a new parliament on 09 May in a race characterized by high levels of apathy over what the public perceives as entrenched government inertia and corruption. About 25,000 candidates competed and more than 48,000 polling stations opened early morning, many under tight police surveillance. The vote to choose 462 members of parliament saw 44 parties — 21 of them newly created — vie for seats in an enlarged parliament, in an election President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised marks “the dawn of a new era.” His National Liberation Front (FLN), once the only legal party, has been steadily losing ground since political pluralism was introduced in 1989.
The main competitors in the election were two government affiliated parties squaring off against a three-party bloc of Islamist parties known as the "Green Alliance." It was speculated that FLN is likely to win the most votes; the FLN will almost certainly need to find coalition partners in order to govern.
Indifferent Algerians voted for Parliament. The sun blazed down on the capital, Algiers. It was a national holiday and Algerian flags - white and green with a Red Crescent moon - fluttered from the lamp posts. But very few people were out on the streets. At a polling station in the el-Biar district of Algiers, there were about a dozen police officers outside, but almost no voters for them to keep under control. About 500 international observers were on hand to monitor the voting in Algeria, a North African nation of 37 million plagued by high unemployment. The observers were from the European Union, African Union, Arab League and other organizations.
Algeria's governing party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), has, amid a feeling the poll would change little for ordinary people, won a disputed parliamentary elections held on 10 May. The party, according to the results, won 220 out of 463 seats, while its partner in government, the National Democratic Rally (RND) of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, a nationalist party close to the military and loyal to Bouteflika, came second with 68 seats, compared to 62 in the outgoing house. An Islamist alliance, which has alleged fraud, came third with 48 seats. Although the results largely maintain the status quo, the provisional results, which have yet to be confirmed by the constitutional council, mean the FLN and the RND could form a majority without the Islamists. Algeria's outgoing governing coalition included the FLN, the RND and the largest of the legal Islamist parties, the Movement of Society for Peace.
Voting has ended in a parliamentary election in Algeria marred by a low turnout. Initially only roughly 15 percent of voters turned out, but the percentage kept on increasing as time passed. Many observers had predicted that ever deeper mistrust, especially among the country's majority of young people, could lead to an even worse turnout than the historical low of 35 percent recorded in 2007. The poll campaign produced no new faces and failed to draw crowds as turnout had been expected to be low. Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia announced a "remarkable" rate of 42.36 percent which he said confirmed Algeria's democratic credentials.
But the Parliamentary elections in Algeria are billed by the government as the fairest in 20 years, but as polls opened disgruntled Algerians appeared to be showing little interest and even outright scorn for the vote. The authorities said turnout was a higher-than-expected 42.9%. All polling stations were largely deserted, and some observers have dismissed the official figure as inflated. There has been large-scale manipulation of the real results announced in the regions, an irrational exaggeration of these results to favor the administration parties, as Green Algeria said in a statement. It warned it would take measures in protest.
Algeria's Islamists were reeling from a stinging setback in legislative polls which saw the ruling party come out on top, resisting the Arab Spring's tide of democratic change. In the wake of the popular revolts that became known as the Arab Spring, moderate Islamist parties recorded electoral victories in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. Ouyahia argued that the Arab Spring was hardly an attractive scenario, calling it a "plague" that had resulted in "the colonization of Iraq, the destruction of Libya, the partition of Sudan and the weakening of Egypt."
In fact, three Islamist parties forming the Islamist Green Algeria Alliance or Green Algeria, which saw their combined share of the seats drop, said the election was fraudulent and dangerous. The opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy, which chose to boycott this election, claimed the announced turnout was fraudulent and that the real figure "did not exceed 18 percent." The Socialist Forces Front, Algeria's oldest opposition party, garnered only 21 seats and also cried foul, charged the regime has used the election "only to consolidate its power". Some 500 foreign observers brought in by Bouteflika to monitor the vote reported only minor hiccups but they were denied access to the national electoral roll, which grew by four million voters since 2007.
The authorities had been keen to present the vote as a sign of democratic reform and an alternative to the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests of last year. The unrest largely passed Algeria by, but its ageing political elite has been under pressure to reform. Dozens of parties took part, after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika approved the establishment of 23 new political parties.
2011 being a year of Mideast protests, Algeria was the site of some Arab Spring protests, but they were not as large as in other countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Last year's revolts in the region left the country largely untouched, but it is now under pressure to reform and renew its ageing establishment. However, after those protests, in February 2011, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's government declared an end to a nearly two-decade state of emergency, lifting restrictions on speech and assembly imposed to combat an Islamist insurgency. The emergency declaration was part of a clampdown on Islamist movements during a civil war that left more than 150,000 dead. But critics said the insurgency had long since diminished, and the law remained solely to muzzle critics of the government.
Although Algeria’s government was never threatened by mass protests or civil war, the Arab Spring has raised expectations for greater freedom and democracy. Voter disaffection could prompt many to stay at home. Islamist parties have struggled to draw crowds during the campaign, as have other factions. Under pressure to reform after last year's "Arab Spring" in the region, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika approved the establishment of 23 new political parties and an increase in the number of seats in parliament to 462.
Algeria, a gateway between Africa and Europe, has been battered by violence over the past half-century. Algeria is a key oil and gas supplier. Part of the Turkish Ottoman empire from the 16th century, Algeria was conquered by the French in 1830 and was given the status of a "department". The struggle for independence began in 1954 headed by the National Liberation Front, which came to power on independence in 1962. More than a million Algerians were killed in the fight for independence from France in 1962, and the country has recently emerged from a brutal internal conflict that followed scrapped elections in 1992. The Sahara desert covers more than four-fifths of the land. Oil and gas reserves were discovered here in the 1950s, but most Algerians live along the northern coast. President Bouteflika led his country out of the civil war that broke out when Islamists were denied an election victory; since the 1990s, the Islamist insurgency has been replaced by Al-Qaeda-inspired movement.
Algeria supplies large amounts of natural gas to Europe and energy exports are the backbone of the economy. After years of political upheaval and violence, Algeria's economy has been given a lift by frequent oil and gas finds. It has estimated oil reserves of nearly 12 billion barrels, attracting strong interest from foreign oil firms. However, poverty remains widespread and unemployment high, particularly among Algeria's youth. Endemic government corruption and poor standards in public services are also chronic sources of popular dissatisfaction. Major protests broke out in January 2011 over food prices and unemployment, with two people being killed in clashes with security forces. The government responded by ordering cuts to the price of basic foodstuffs, and repealed the 1992 state of emergency law.
The regime argues that the anageresults showed Algerians' desire for stability, at a time when regime change was bringing chaos to other countries, and outright rejection of Islamism, whose rise 20 years ago led to civil war. The last truly fair elections in 1991 were dominated by a populist Islamist party known as the Islamic Salvation Front, but the military stepped in, canceled the voting and banned the party, prompting more than a decade of civil war that killed an estimated 200,000. No party has since been able to mobilize Algeria's disaffected citizens to the same degree. The historic party of the independence fight from colonial ruler France, the National Liberation Front, with its deep network across the country, has since won the most seats.
Many voters feel that even if the composition of parliament changes, it will continue to rubber-stamp any laws that the president wants to pass.
Muslim rulers and leaders across the world is no different in attitude to people from others. Living standards, sincerity and faith level in Algeria clearly demonstrate how hollow the Islamic world is. Despite its hydrocarbon wealth, there is widespread dissatisfaction in the country and frequent demonstrations and riots over unemployment, poor utilities and lack of housing. While unemployment is only officially at 10 percent, it rises to at least 20 percent among those under 30, some 70 percent of the population. Algeria, Africa's largest by area is a vast oil-rich North African nation of 35 million people. Most Algerians are distrustful of politics and largely ignored a three-week campaigning period. Party rallies were rarely full and in some cases candidates were heckled and even pelted with rocks by disaffected citizens.
State agencies of Algeria have billed the poll as Algeria's most free and fair, but it has been marred by widespread voter apathy. Many people said there was no point in voting because it wouldn't change anything. Many Algerians see parliament as a rubber stamp for any laws President Abdelaziz Bouteflika wants to pass. Billboards put up especially for the elections have had their campaign posters ripped down or defaced - a sign many people have chosen to boycott this vote.