Re: Algeria’s Legislative Elections

This blogger made several posts in 2010 and 2011 on Algeria’s formal political processes. These included charts and tables on various political parties in the lower house of parliament (the National People’s Assembly, APN), the cabinet and on the presidential elections from 1995 through 2009. As time has gone on, voter participation has decreased, especially in national elections; the 2007 legislative election was a fine example of this, where turnout hit a historic low, around 40-something percent — and this was taking into account official exaggerations. Most of those posts (not al, though) can be seen on the “O, Sir, You are Old” page, which includes various posts dealing with Algerian politics. This post will not go too deep on the elections but will only offer general observations and assessments of things as they stand in broad terms, real analysis can be done later.

This blogger has not made many posts on the election or the campaign itself because he does not see it as especially significant; this is a regularly scheduled election taking place on time for a legislature with little authority or power (the real power in the Algerian legislature rests with the upper house, the Majlis al-Umma, which is indirectly elected, except for a third of delegates who are directly appointed by the president and which exists (circa 1997) precisely to prevent the parliament from acting as a credible challenge to the executive) and a poll in which most Algerians will probably not vote, out of indifference or as part of an active boycott. Though there were important reforms undertaken last year, these were largely pro forma and should not be taken as an indicator of significant change as yet.

Much of the western and pan-Arab media coverage has obsessed over the prospect of the Islamist Green Alliance (made up of the Muslim Brotherhood and former ruling coalition affiliated Movement for a Society of Peace (MSP), El Islah and En-Nahdha (no relation to the Tunisian party) or other Islamist parties (such as Abdallah Djaballah’s Front de la justice et du développement (FJD)) taking a large number of seats. The MSP’s leader, Boudjerra Soltani began saying he anticipated a sweeping victory for Islamists, based on the performance of Islamists in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, in mid-winter, 2011. Early in 2012, his party left its long alliance with the National Liberation Front (FLN, Algeria’s former partie unique) and the National Rally for Democracy (RND, the party of the current prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia) – believing this break would lead to greater credibility and increased popularity. This prompted aggressive criticism from other Algerian politicians, especially Louisa Hanoune, head of the leftist Workers Party. That Soltani could state what he did so publicly and repeatedly indicates that a consensus was reached in the bowels of the Algerian regime that the 10 May election would yield an APN with heavy Islamist representation — in line with regional trends — which remains loyal to the basic interests of the Algerian power elite — in line with Algerian standards. The cards have been laid out since no later than December 2011, so the gaping yawn between then and the eve of the election on 9 May has not been particularly exciting.

The MSP is not the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, nor is it or any of the parties running in Algeria’s election even remotely similar to Tunisia’s en-Nahdhah. The MSP strongly resembles to the Moroccan PJD in that it is a party of the palace; though it will have been a governing party longer than any of the North African Islamist or opposition parties. This party is not a descendent of the FIS — it competed with the FIS in 1990 and 1992 and lost to them, badly and has spent the last twenty years exploiting their exclusion from Algeria’s political and civic life. This has been discussed on this blog at length, as well as in the academic literature on Algeria’s formal politics. The party will increase its share in the APN, and this will happen whether or not there is obstruction or interference. Their candidates are rumoured to have already moved into swanky condos in Algiers, in preparation for taking their  and so Soltani’s early warnings about “obstruction” causing fury in his ranks can may be seen as theatrics more than an echo of the urge for transparency many now feel in the wake of elections in liberated Tunisia. Abdallah Djaballah is similar, though he has been less compromising and appears less nakedly power hungry than some of the men in the Green Alliance (some of whom were members of previous parties set up by Djaballah; he has been forced out of more than one participatory Islamist party in the last 15 years). The new coalition will likely include Islamists, though as yet it is unclear who; rumours seem to favour Djaballah or even Amar Ghoul, though rumours are, after all, rumours.

This blogger will say he expects Louisa Hanoune, who has been campaigning loudly and aggressively, to keep her seat, but her party will probably not perform as well as it has in the past (it nearly doubled its seats in each election from 1997 to 2007) given the dissidence seen in its ranks. The tone in many of her recent speeches suggests her party is more desperate going into these polls than in previous years. Her distaste for the MSP is longstanding and well known, but she has been marked more vociferous since the end of 2011, not just because 2012 is an election year; there are forces at work in the region and the country that may displace her prominent role in Algerian politics as a Trotskyist opposition mouthpiece that simultaneously criticises the regime while defending its basic integrity on nationalist grounds.

What is most important to watch is how the FLN fares; this was the one party when Algeria was a one party state, and it is the largest party with the most committed base of activists in the country, spread over the largest space. The vote of no confidence on its Secretary General Abdelaziz Belkhadem points to problems in his personal style — authoritarian and parochial — and to the disillusionment felt among ambitious, younger party cadres. In some areas dissenters ran alternative, independent FLN lists; the FLN will likely be a relative loser at the polls. The RND will likely not face the same problems as the FLN, given its composition and structure and support in the military.

The new parties by and large have their roots in mass organisations or civil society groups close to the regime establishment. These include the Algerian Muslim Scouts and the various associations of the “Revolutionary Family”. They will act as minor parties have tended to in Algeria over the last decade or so, as conduits for elite entry and networks of clientele. They may act as “independents” did in the last (2007) election, as levers to push and pull on dissident camps in the legislature, should this or that party deviate from a preferred path.

Turnout remains important; will Salafists vote? Will soldiers be made to vote multiple times at distant constituencies? Will people in the Sahara have adequate access? Will youth vote? Will the elderly vote? In what proportions? These are standard questions. One should not anticipate massive turn out.

The election will be more interesting the day after, when charts and graphs can be made and analysed.

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