Algeria goes to the polls looking to the future

Algeria goes to the polls looking to the future

Alessando Scipione
Tipping the scale at the election of May 4 appears more likely to be the predictions regarding voter turnout than the parties running for office. The National Liberation Front remains the favorite, but the parliamentary majority of the party could be questioned by the National Democratic Rally, which is currently very solid

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Algerian voters are called to vote on May 4 for the renewal of the National People’s Assembly: the lower house of the Algerian parliament. In order to win the 462 parliamentarians, about twelve candidates from 57 parties are running for office, but, as in the past, this time, the National Liberation Front (FLN), the historic government formation, is considered to be the certain winner of the consultation. The real unknown, in fact, is the turnout.
Long-serving President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999, signed, on February 2, the decree calling for the elections, to which 23 million Algerians are called. There will be over 4,700 polling stations, located up to the most remote corners of what is the largest country in the African continent. During the 2012 elections, the turnout to the polls stood at 43.14% and, this time, the government hopes to have a participation of over 51%, partly because the consultation is considered a sort of general test for the real game of power in Algeria: the presidential elections to be held in 2019.

Disputed leadership

Yet, for the first time, the parliamentary majority of the FLN could be questioned by the National Democratic Rally (RND). Both parties are part of the state apparatus, and together they control a large part of the electorate. The Front, however, has suffered several shocks in recent months, culminating on October 22, 2016 with the resounding resignation of the party’s former general secretary, Amar Saidani. Officially, the former leader of the FLN left his office for health reasons, but many believe his retirement was due to a clash with the presidential circle, which did not like his "exuberance." To take Saidani’s place was Djamel Ould Abbas, a man very close to the Bouteflika family, of the medical profession. The new general secretary took over the leadership of the party in a difficult period and with a very precise mission: to maintain the strength of the National Front on the Algerian political scene, in an attempt to fill the void left by Saidani.
The National Democratic Rally, however, seems to have come back together. The leader of the RND is Ahmed Ouyahia, a powerful personal adviser to President Bouteflika and one of the possible candidates to be elected upon his succession. The party decided to multiply the meeting with the base and tighten the ranks in view of the parliamentary consultations. It appears difficult, however, for the RND to be able to reverse its strengths in parliament. It is more likely that the Rally will improve the result of 6.86% obtained in the last elections of 2012, when the FLN won hands down with 17.35% of the votes.

The Islamic front

There are three main Algerian religious inspirational parties: The Movement of Society for Peace (Hamas, not to be confused with the Palestine group with the same name); the Renaissance Party (Ennahda, not associated with the Tunisian Muslim Democratic Party with the same name) and the Front for Change, founded from a split from Hamas. Most Algerians, however, have sad memories of the Islamic inspirational party, following the nightmare of the "Black Decade," when the guerrilla between Islamic fundamentalists and the army caused a real massacre. Estimated deaths from the civil war are between 150,000 and 200,000, but the true figures have never been confirmed.
The elections of May 4, however, are a major test for Islamist movements, following the defeat of the so-called "Green Alliance" which, in 2012, reached a mere 6.22%, remaining well behind the percentages obtained in previous years by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. The Movement of Society for Peace is perhaps the most credible Islamic inspirational party on the Algerian scene, despite the recent internal split.
The Islamic front is uniting again following an extreme fragmentation, partly due to the personalities of the various leaders. The Islamist alliance will hardly be able to mobilize the large multitude of disillusioned young Algerians who are more likely to flee into abstention.

Boycott, controversy and security

Former prime minister Ali Benflis decided to boycott the legislative elections because "the opposition has no voice in parliament." A decision dictated by the "total degradation of political life in Algeria in the last three years," said Benflis who, in 2014, was nominated for the presidency of the Republic.
Part of the opposition hopes for a low turnout to the polls in order to question the legitimacy of the vote and of parliament itself. In the meantime, the authorities have closed the land borders to ensure stability and security, ahead of the electoral process. The fear is that terrorists from Libya and Mali may infiltrate the country to carry out attacks. Regarding the regularity of the vote, over 300 international observers will oversee the process.