Many Algerians Turn their Back on Thursday’s Election
With 10 months of mass protests failing to oust ruling elite, protesters believe twice-delayed presidential vote will further entrench despised political system
No victor of the December 12 Algerian presidential election will have the support of the people, analysts say, with many citizens seeing the vote merely as entrenching an establishment set in place by the military, most recently under the 20-year rule of Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Bouteflika was forced to resign on April 2 in the face of unprecedented protests that began in February, when he announced his intent to run for a fifth term despite having suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013.
Two postponed elections later, and with hundreds of thousands of Algerians continuing to take to the streets on a weekly basis, candidates in Thursday’s polling are five Bouteflika followers. Instead of heralding a change in leadership, the vote is seen as providing a rubber stamp to the ruling elite.
“For the first time ever, Algeria is going to an election that is widely rejected by the public,” Hamid Goumrassa, an Algerian analyst and writer for the popular El Khabar daily in Algiers, told The Media Line.
“The candidates are Bouteflika’s sons,” he said figuratively, “which means that the election will result in a fifth term for Bouteflika, just without him in person.”
He predicted that the mass protests would continue after election day.
“They will be overwhelming,” he said.
Since independence from France in 1962, the military has essentially ruled Algeria. As late as this week, its various branches have arrested many dozens of protesters, political opponents of the regime and journalists, continuing its control.
“Algerians won’t accept this anymore,” Nizar al-Makan, a Tunisian political analyst and instructor at the Institute of Press and News Science in Tunis, explained to The Media Line.
“They are refusing to reproduce the same old system, just through new people who would continue to serve the military leadership,” he said.
Goumrassa says that a large segment of Algerians is refusing to vote. Protestors have placed tremendous pressure on senior officials to step down, he adds, but to no avail.
Ayman Abd al-Majeed, an Egyptian writer and head of the political section at the Rose al-Yusuf daily newspaper in Cairo, told The Media Line that “the big challenge here is the ability of the new president to absorb the groups that oppose him and prove that he will bring change on the ground, as well as fight corruption.”
The Algerian elite, Majeed says, is paying heed to power struggles in nearby countries, including Libya, and wants a different fate.
“Algeria is a country of institutions, and [the elite’s] top priority is to protect these institutions,” he explained.
According to Makan, there are those who support holding elections while also seeking a change in governance, although their chief fear is citizens turning against one another.
“They are afraid that if the military establishment loses its power, the country will become weak and chaotic or enter a civil war,” he said.
These people believe in gradual reforms to avoid sudden changes that could ignite catastrophic scenarios.
Majeed notes the risks that have been entailed in similar regional experiences, highlighting a need for the democratic political process to evolve gradually.
“Some Arab countries replaced presidents with those who were worse than what they were protesting against in the first place,” he said.
No matter what, Thursday’s election is apparently inevitable – despite chants heard as late as Wednesday evening calling for “a civilian country, not military.”