Sunday,17 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Sunday,17 February, 2019
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

No change in Algeria

Last week’s parliamentary elections in Algeria did not affect the country’s political status quo or the power of the pro-government parties

No change  in Algeria
No change in Algeria

Elections for the lower house of the Algerian parliament took place on 4 May in the shadow of frustrations across the region. This was especially apparent in the low level of participation and in the results of the elections, predicted by many analysts well before polling day.

The results announced by Minister of Interior and Local Communities Noureddin Badawi on 5 May revealed that the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) Party had won the most seats with 164, 50 of which were held by women, followed by the National Rally for Democracy (RND) Party with 97, the Future Front (FM) with 14, the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) with nine, the National Republican Alliance (ANR) with eight, the Movement for National Understanding (MEN) with four and the Karama (Dignity) Party with three.

Badawi said 28.75 per cent (or eight million out of 23 million) of eligible voters had cast their ballots in the elections, less than the 34 per cent during the 2012 elections announced by the Ministry of Interior at the time. He said the elections had been contested by 12,000 candidates representing 57 political parties and individual lists for 462 seats in parliament.

These were the first parliamentary elections in Algeria since constitutional amendments in 2016 establishing the Independent High Commission for Elections. They took place amid a financial crisis resulting from a drop in oil prices, uncertainty about the health of Algerian President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika, and frustration in the wake of uncertainties surrounding the movement for change in the Arab world after 2011.

Many Algerians were indifferent to the elections despite efforts to reach out to the public by many political parties and forces.

The Algerian media said there had been many spoiled ballot papers in addition to high rates of abstention, and it showed video footage of alleged vote-rigging after the voting had ended. Polling hours had been extended by the authorities in an attempt to encourage people to participate. There was also some violence targeting polling stations, according to the Algerian media.

Chairman of the Elections Commission Abdel-Wahab Derbal told reporters that he had received 230 complaints regarding procedures, including complaints of illegal actions that the commission could not investigate but had referred to regional public prosecutors.

The elections were contested by four main political currents, the first being composed of the FLN headed by Bouteflika, which maintained control of the parliament despite losing votes compared to previous elections, and the RND led by former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia, which came second in the elections.

The second current is Political Islam, consisting of two major axes. The first is an alliance of three parties, the Ennahda (Renaissance) Movement, the National Construction Movement and the Justice and Development Front. The second includes the Movement for the Peace of Society (Hamas) and the Front for Change, viewed as a wing of the Algerian Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite the alliance of the Islamists, they were unable to make major gains in the elections because of continued disputes and divisions and public disapproval of them in the wake of their record in power in Egypt and Tunisia in the post-Arab Spring era. They won 49 seats overall.

The third current is composed of left-wing parties that came out second in the elections overall and includes the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), the Workers Party (PT) and the RCD, a secular opposition party established 1989 with its political base in the tribal areas of eastern Algeria.

The remaining seats were distributed among smaller parties either loyal to or opposed to the regime. These parties did not win enough seats to impact parliamentary decision-making, and they are in any case divergent in outlook and politics.

Many in the Algerian opposition believe that the voter participation rates were exaggerated by the authorities in view of calls to boycott the elections. Badawi avoided mentioning the number of spoiled ballots, they say, with many claiming that these were the “real winners” in the elections.

The outcome of the elections maintains the status quo in Algeria, and it could help the regime to transfer power after the inevitable passing of Bouteflika, the way in which this will be done still remaining unclear. The fragmented nature of the opposition and its inability to impact the voters helped to bolster the pro-government parties while only deepening opposition disputes and divisions.

This allowed the government parties to contest the elections without serious concerns about the possibility of rival political groups or parties winning significant numbers of seats.

However, the impact of conditions in the Arab Spring countries was also evident, since it is widely felt in Algeria that both government and opposition parties in countries that experienced the seismic changes of the Arab Spring have failed to encourage greater political participation.

Polarisation in the region in recent years among various political forces has discouraged many people from participating in public life, explaining the low turnout in the Algerian elections.

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