Parliamentary elections in Algeria where everybody lost, except women
The biggest losers in the 2017 elections were the Islamists.
2017/05/14 Issue: 106 Page: 11
The Arab Weekly
Khaled Omar Ben Guigua
The results of the parliamentary elections in Algeria were quite different from what the participating parties, especially the Islamist ones, had expected.
While the outcome offered surprises, there had been a clear conflict discernable on four levels during the campaigns.
First, there was an obvious generational gap between the old guard from the days of the Algerian revolution and independence and a younger generation not convinced of the prevailing traditional political discourse.
Second, the competing institutions fought a particularly fierce campaign relying greatly on social media.
Third, the conflict between political parties and the public. By not voting it sent the parties a resounding message of disapproval. The voter abstention rate was 61% and 10% of the cast votes were annulled.
The fourth aspect of conflict was, of course, the ruthless competition between the parties themselves. The elections revealed the relative political importance of each party and particularly exposed the utter failure of the Islamist parties.
The reactions to the results of the May 4 vote were as expected. The old parties either played down the significance of them or doubted their transparency. Secretary-General of the National Front Djamel Ould Abbas claimed the elections had only a minor impact on the political scene, while Abderrazak Mokri from the Islamist Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) and Louisa Hanoune from the Workers’ Party simply described the elections as rigged.
The truth, however, is not found in their explanations. There are new realities in Algeria that cannot be ignored.
Here are some of them:
Fifty-seven parties took part in the elections but most of the electorate stayed away. This means that, except for parties that boycotted the elections, all of the others were lumped in the same camp. There were no opposition parties.
The government’s alarmist campaign had failed. The authorities wanted the public to believe that abstaining or boycotting the elections would plunge the country into chaos. That has not happened and the majority of the people showed they no longer trust the state’s institutions, especially the parliament. Still, the social explosion is coming, no doubt.
The party that made the most improvement in terms of results was the National Democratic Rally (NDR), led by Ahmed Ouyahia, with 97 seats won, an increase of 29 from the 2012 elections. The NDR represents 21% of the new parliament.
Although still leading the election results with 164 seats, the National Liberation Front lost 44 seats from the 2012 polls.
The biggest losers in the 2017 elections were the Islamists. They had been confident of a sweeping victory. However, the total number of seats mustered by all the Islamist parties did not exceed 67 seats — 14.5% of the parliament seats. This result could hardly be useful to the Islamists even in case they are joined in a political bloc by the independent candidates, who totalled 28 seats.
The Islamists entered the elections represented by two poles. The first was an alliance between MSP and the Front for Change. They represent the Muslim Brotherhood and won 33 seats, a drop of 15 seats from 2012. The second Islamist pole was an alliance between three parties: the Ennahda Movement, the El-Bina Movement and the Justice and Development Front. The alliance won 15 seats.
Leftist and socialist parties also regressed. The oldest opposition party in Algeria, the Socialist Forces Front, won 14 seats. In the 2012 elections, the Front won 27. The Workers’ Party did no better. It has won 11 seats this time, a significant drop from the 24 seats won in 2012.
All the major political forces in Algeria have regressed in the polls, especially the Islamist parties. In previous elections, these parties had found a place on the political map thanks in part to their alliances with the government. One indirect factor behind the overall regression of the major parties is the participation of small parties, which have been able each to lay hands on a seat here and there.
The major losers in the 2017 parliamentary polls remain the Algerian people. The Algerian Parliament is going to be composed mostly of members who have not won the public’s trust. The same goes for the state’s institutions and the government in general, led by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The government simply keeps postponing dealing with the country’s problems.
One positive result in the elections was the rise in the number of women elected to the parliament: 139 seats — 30% — of the new parliament will go to women, mainly as a result of enforcing election laws and observing international standards.