In Algeria, everyone wants to be MP, few likely to vote

Voters are increasingly disillusioned with their leaders’ inability to contain jihadist threats or save the economy.

Worst state of elections since 1976. An Algerian woman walks next to a poster encouraging people to vote in upcoming legislative elections. (AP)

2017/03/26 Issue: 99 Page: 10

The Arab Weekly
Lamine Ghanmi

Tunis - Thousands of candidates are vying for a position in Algeria’s 462-member People’s National Assem­bly, a record number of participants that reflects the cov­eted status of the job. However, the strong turnout from candidates is unlikely to mean high voter partici­pation, as Algeria’s 23.3 million eli­gible voters are showing low levels of interest in the May 4th elections.

“Parliamentary elections are used by elites as a social ladder,” said Nacer Djabi, a sociology re­searcher at Algiers University. “In Algeria, only the state remains rich. The elites in the middle-class elites are poor. Being made parliamentar­ians bring the lucky ones close to the wealth of the state.”

Algerian Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui said the candi­datures of 12,591 people, about one-third of whom were women, were filed with election officials.

The High Independent Elections Monitoring Authority Chairman Abdelwahab Derbal reported “two or three cases of cheating” in the mandatory voter lists to endorse candidates led to the removal of involved candidacies. He did not name the candidates or their par­ties.

“The final lists of candidates will be validated on March 27th after the end of an appeal period for the can­didates to challenge the ministry decisions,” said Interior Ministry Secretary-General Hocine Mazouz.

The initial number of citizens hoping to run for office was even higher. In the National Liberation Front (FLN) party alone, 6,228 members — 600 from Algiers — sought to be candidates.

Algerian media reported similar levels of participation in other ma­jor parties.

The selection process was a night­mare for party leaders, who had to navigate fierce internal disputes to come up with a final list. Among those hoping for slots were minis­ters, billionaires, school teachers and doctors.

“Not everybody can be a deputy,” said FLN chief Djamel Ould Abbes to angry members lobbying for a seat. “There are not 6,000 seats available in the parliament.”

This high level of political en­gagement is unlikely to translate to voters, who are increasingly disil­lusioned with their leaders’ inabil­ity to effectively contain the threat from jihadists or save the economy from faltering oil revenues.

“The state of [this year’s] par­liamentary elections is the worst Algeria has seen since 1976,” said political commentator Saad Bokba. “Social tensions are high because of the economic crisis, which has been caused by mismanagement and a decline in oil prices.

Bokba said that recent protests have taken a more political turn.

“Ruling parties are not even con­trolling their angry members and the government lacks the plan and resolve to handle the crisis,” he said. “According to the population, the upcoming elections will only make the situation worse.”

Most of this year’s candidates are linked to the FLN and the National Democratic Rally party but Islam­ists groups are looking to make a return after years of decline.

To improve their odds, three of Algeria’s leading Islamist parties — El Binaa, the Front for Justice and Development (FJD) and Ennahda — formed a coalition for the election.

Another alliance was formed be­tween the Fundamentalist Move­ment of Society of Peace, which is linked to the international Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamist group Front of Change.

Much of the public has scorned Islamist groups since Algeria’s civil conflict in the 1990s, when violence between Islamists and government forces claimed the lives of an esti­mated 200,000 people. With bitter memories of Algeria’s civil war still alive, whether the public will re­ceive Islamists back into the main­stream is unknown.

While Islamist groups are run­ning candidates for all available seats, some secularist opposition parties, whose popularity is nar­rowly concentrated, failed to field candidates for all election districts. Such groups included the Front of Socialist Forces (FFS), Culture and Democracy Rally (RCD) and the So­cial Democratic Movement.

For almost five decades, Algeria’s political regime has been sealed from opposition, and those who challenge the status quo have faced fierce backlash from ruling powers.

In 1992, then-president Moham­ed Boudiaf, a leading figure in Alge­ria’s independence war, was killed by presidential guards after form­ing the National Popular Rally party to fight regime corruption.

During the 1999 presidential elec­tion cycle, FFS founder Hocine Ait Ahmed, who was running for office on a platform of reform, was forced to scrap his candidacy days before the elections.

In 1991, the Algerian army stepped in to prevent the radical Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) from taking power when it was poised to win parliamentary elections.

“The regime is convinced that its stability is secured by the repres­sion and distribution of oil mon­ey, not through democracy,” said political analyst Mustapha Ham­mouche.

Lamine Ghanmi is a veteran Reuters journalist. He has covered North Africa for decades and is based in Tunis.

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