Scepticism the main challenge in Algeria election

Algeria's authorities say a parliamentary election on Thursday is a stepping stone towards a more democratic state, but many people do not believe their promises

Scepticism the main challenge in Algeria election

World Bulletin/News Desk

Algerians voted on Thursday for a new parliament that officials say will bring democracy to a country left behind by the "Arab Spring" revolts, but many people showed their scepticism by abstaining.    

Forty-two political parties compete in the elections to take place in Algeria to elect the 462 new members of the People's National Assembly.      

The main competition is expected to take place between two parties, in connection with the government, and the alliance set up by Movement of Society for Peace, Ennahda and Al Islah parties.      

Socialists, who have not joined the elections since 1997, will also join this parliamentary elections.      

Moreover, the Arab League, Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and European Union will send observers to Algerian elections.      

OIC stated on Tuesday, "as part of its continuous endeavor to promote democracy and good governance in the OIC member states, a 23-member Election Observation Team to Algeria was dispatched to follow the legislative elections scheduled to be held on May 10, 2012."      

"The team is composed of parliamentarians, senior diplomats and election experts from the OIC member states and the OIC general secretariat," it said.      

"The Secretary General of the OIC Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu expressed his hope that the election will be held peacefully and impartially and noted that competitive participation of more than 40 political parties and thousands of candidates with local and international observers will lead to credible and transparent elections," said OIC.

Ahead of the elections, Algeria's Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia criticized Abbas Madani, the leader of the Islamic Salvation Front (FFS) which was banned by the army in 1992, of calling Algerian people to boycott the elections.      

Ouyahia said boycotting the elections would strengthen the hands of foreign countries to intervene in Algeria's internal affairs.

Algerian government thinks that participation in the elections will be around 40 percent.

Sceptical voters

Last year's uprisings in the region left Algeria under pressure to reform and renew the ageing establishment that has ruled without interruption since independence from France half a century ago.

The vote is likely, for the first time in Algeria's history, to make Islamist parties the biggest bloc in the 462-seat national assembly, say diplomats and analysts. That will be in keeping with a trend in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere since the "Arab Spring."

However, there is little chance that will lead to radical change: the Islamists who are expected to dominate are moderate and loyal to the ruling establishment. Several of their leaders are already ministers in the government.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said on Tuesday the election was a decisive stage in Algeria's programme of reform, and appealed to people to turn out and vote.

"This election ... (is a) test of the country's credibility," he said in a speech in the eastern city of Setif.

The main issue at stake is how many people vote. There are no reliable opinion polls but anecdotal evidence suggests many Algerians will stay home.

"I do not expect a high turnout," Noureddine Benissad, head of the independent Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, told Reuters on Tuesday. "Ordinary Algerians have lost interest in the election."

A low turnout will be awkward for the authorities, still dominated by the people who helped win independence from France 50 years ago. They want to shed their fusty, authoritarian image, and to do that they need popular legitimacy.

The election is likely to be the fairest and most transparent in two decades. More parties than ever before have been allowed to compete, and for the first time the European Union has been invited to monitor the vote.

The problem for the authorities is that many Algerians believe elections change nothing.

Real power, they say, lies with an informal network which is commonly known by the French term "le pouvoir," or "the power," and has its roots in the security forces. Officials deny this and say the country is run by democratically-elected officials.

A minority of Algerians are using the election as an opportunity to protest. Members of one group, the Movement of Independent Youth for Change, have been arrested for protesting against what they call an "electoral masquerade."

Whatever the outcome of the vote, the authorities are likely to press on with a reform programme.

The first step, many analysts predict, will be the appointment of a new prime minister. Ahmed Ouyahia, prime minister since 2008, has zealously implemented a programme of economic nationalism that has chilled the business climate. A limited thaw is now likely.

The next phase is a review of the constitution, which will probably re-distribute some power from the president to parliament.

That will be followed by a race for the presidency. Bouteflika, who is 75 and often looks frail, is not expected to run for a fourth term.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 10 Mayıs 2012, 16:21

Muhammed Öylek