Today Algerians go to the ballot box for the parliamentary elections. President Tebboune hopes that they will finally bring some peace to the country; everyone is encouraged to vote.
The divided opposition says they boycott the election. Although thousands of candidates competed for more than 400 seats, they think there is little to choose today.
“These elections are a masquerade, a democratic alibi. The regime is looking for legitimacy and the ballot box is an attempt to generate this legitimacy,” says Dalia Ghanem, Algeria expert at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
Elections sooner than planned
In fact, the elections were not supposed to take place until 2022, but were highlighted by President Tebboune in response to the ongoing demonstrations. Tebboune himself talks about the start of a new Algeria, but many Algerians have little confidence in that; they are convinced that the army will ultimately keep the most power.
Ghanem: “Algerians are therefore divided whether they will vote or not. One sees it as an opportunity to make changes from within, the other believes that participation gives a democratic alibi to the system and regime.” She expects a low turnout, while state television will show images of full polling stations.
These are the first parliamentary election since former President Bouteflika stepped up under great pressure from millions of protesters in 2019. After Bouteflika indicated that he wanted to go for a fifth term of office, protests organized by the Hirak (“movement”) broke out. Bouteflika was a member of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) governing party and has been in power for twenty years. He was succeeded by Tebboune, a former minister, and member of that same FLN.
Leaderless Hiraks protests were temporarily silent because of the pandemic, but since February Algerians are going to the streets on a weekly basis. As in 2019, they demand political change, democracy and more freedom. They are dissatisfied with President Tebboune and are often hard addressed by the police.
Algeria is a closed country. Whats going on there isnt easy for most outsiders to find out. The internet is blocked regularly and people dont like to speak to foreign journalists for fear of repercussions. “Only without calling my name can I tell you something,” says a woman from Algiers on the phone.
She has been demonstrating for two years and says that this is becoming more dangerous: “People are tired and worried about the future. Thats why we continue to demonstrate. We want the system to change. Our dream is a true democracy, civilization and a better future. Ive been in for two years and dont see any change. So Im not going to vote either because all of this is a sham.”
She describes the atmosphere in Algiers as “hugely tense”; theres a lot of police in the streets. “A lot of people have been arrested at demonstrations, including several journalists. Its unclear how long people will be stuck next.”
Activists and Journalists arrested
In the run-up to these elections, the repression has stepped up considerably. There have been reports in recent days that countless Hirak activists have been arrested on the eve of the election. Among the arrests are two prominent journalists, Khaled Drareni and Ihsane el Kadi, and opposition leader Karim Tabbou.
Amnesty International calls it a “cheerful escalation” in addressing aberrant opinions in Algeria. Amnesty Internationals Amna Guellali already called the arrests a “worrying new trend in which Algerian authorities are using anti-terrorism legislation prior to the elections to suppress the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and speech”.
The ongoing turmoil combined with a lack of clear alternatives could give religious parties more chances during these elections to increase their influence. Ghanem: “I assume that the Islamists will bring in quite a few seats, but they will not get a majority and will not pose a threat.”
The economic malaise caused by the pandemic and falling oil and gas prices will certainly challenge the future government. Unemployment is rising and the purchasing power of the average Algerian is becoming less and will cause ever more dissatisfaction.