The “campaign season” is officially underway, as of this past weekend. It makes sense to outline where the candidates (aside from Bouteflika) stand. El Khabar has some article briefly summarizing the views of the various candidates (except for Fawzi Rebaine). Here is a round up of some campaign happenings.
- Hanoune: Louisa Hanoune’s (of the Workers’ Party, PT) platform is based on a populist and leftist appeal, mainly composed of opposition to liberalization. She views the parliament as a threat to the “consolidation of democracy” in Algeria, and wants to dissolve it in order to create “participatory political and economic alternatives”. She opposes privatization — especially of the banks — and wants to cast herself as the champion of the private sector, where many of her backers work. She wants to revisit the hydrocarbon law (a major controversy of the last two years) and opposes special trade agreements with the EU and rejects ascension into the WTO. In Bouira, she announced her desire to provide jobs by “reopening public enterprises on the example of Venezuela”, and to make Tamazight (Berber) an official language of Algeria. These views are popular among many midle and lower class Algerians, as well as the over educated: She holds much street cred for her “sharp tongue” during the 1990’s, but many view her participation as an affront to her followers, legitimizing a rigged process. (She also has much support among people in Kabylia, both Arab and Kabyle). Her candidacy is encouraging to Algerian women, especially those active in the historic womens’ movement. Still, given that her platform differs from her opponents, in many ways radically, she adds, in the words of one of her supporters, “an outlet for plight the masses”. (For a critique of participation, see here.)
- Touati: Moussa Touati (the Algerian National Front) is campaigning in Jiljel (Hanoune’s hometown, it might be noted), also appealing to populist and nationalist sentiments. Touati, who is widely seen as a puppet of the regime, is criticizing police brutality and the authorities’ “mismanagement” of society. He thunders that “security does not begin with clubbing, but by providing secure life and food”. He criticized governors for having foreign bank accounts and vacation homes, and for doing business with foreign firms. His Jiljel speech also targeted women: He promises to offer grants to women working in the home “as if they were teachers”, to reduce the hours of female workers to “six or four hours a day” with the aim of encouraging them to focus on “the composition of their families and raising their children”, in the context of “refusing to treat women as men in the workplace”. Touati would also like to reduce the time of mandatory military service from 18 to 6 months.
- Mohamed Said: The independent candidate has started out by appealing to the youth. Said criticized the regime for stifling youth participation, stating that he sees it necessary for the older generation to build confidence in the youth by allowing them to gain experience through practice.
- Younsi: Djahid Younsi, of El-Islah, criticized other candidates for not speaking up enough against the regime’s corruption. He said that too many “do not know the looting of wealth and the [extent to which] the date has been dipped in the country”. He condemned official figures pointing to Bouteflika’s successes in providing housing and jobs as “mere ink on paper,” and at best gross exaggerations. He criticized Algeria’s participation in the Union for the Mediterranean as “an affront to Algerian national identity, referencing a Mediterranean Algeria that “does not exist in history”. He promises to raise the minimum wage for teachers to 50,000 dinars and 25,000 dinars for all other government staff (about $700 and $350, rounding up).
- Rebiane: Fawzi Rebaine of Ahd 54, a nationalist-oriented party that emphasizes his human rights activism, began his campaign in Tlemcen by emphasizing the role of local assemblies in decision making. He has also criticized l’Union générale des travailleurs algériens (UGTA) as “an organization that does not defend the interests of the estate because serving the state.” In addition he has attacked the televised media for biased coverage. He has advocated broader based development, saying that “We have enormous potential and immense wealth just waiting to be exploited efficiently and consistently. The politics of economic recovery should be coordinated with other sectors, including agriculture, tourism, services, public works.” He considers economic development the most important issue in the campaign, and his party surprised some by beginning the campaign with neither a slogan nor a conventional platform. His party emphasizes structural reform economically and constitutionally, devolving more power to the local level.
One must remember that the candidates who are not Abdelaziz Bouteflika face many challenges in reaching their audiences. Significantly they lack the significant funding Bouteflika enjoys from state coffers, as well as from “private” donors who happen to be among the country’s wealthiest public servants, military officers and the like. This means that their access to ad space on television, radio and the roadside is greatly limited. Bouteflika has secured support from none other than star footballer Zineddine Zidane, in an effort to reach out to the youth. Images of the 73-year-old playing football are in wide proliferation, attempting to disperse with concerns about his poor health and age. Who would have thought Zidane a Boutefista?
To get a taste of the kind of bias one finds toward Bouteflika in much of the media, understand that El Moudjahid, the semi-official French-language paper, describes Bouteflika as “l’homme qui défend les valeurs authentiquement algériennes dans leur triple dimension l’amazighité, l’islam et l’arabité pour imprégner les valeurs nationales, de paix et de fraternité à la jeunesse”.
This is amid complaints from local officials and businessmen complaining of “extortion” on behalf of Said Bouteflika, the president’s brother, and Abdelmalek Sellal, the campaign director, as well as Hmraoui Habib Shawqi and Abdelkader Khumri, both officials in the campaign. Allegedly, individuals have been muscling their way into using luxury hotels, ball rooms and large private homes on the basis of supporting the president’s campaign, while using “carrot and stick” tactics to pressure businesspeople and other locals into supporting the campaign. The means? Blackmail.
In other election related news, former AIS commander Madani Mezrag has said that he has lost confidence in Bouteflika, because militants who set down for the 2004 amnesty have not been “allowed the rights promised to them”, accusing the president of “acting treacherously” and demanding that Bouteflika allow for a referendum on whether former militants should be allowed to vote (currently, they aren’t). El Khabar also posed seven questions to the candidates, among them being “What do you think about the criminalization of journalism?” “Do you think the army still picks the president?” “Do you think that building a million housing units is possible? Is the development of 3 million jobs?” and “What is the solution to farmers’ debt?” (Bouteflika’s solution is to cancel it).
At the same time, teachers and lecturers in the sciences are threatening to go back on strike, after the Ministry of Education and Scientific Research backed away from a wage increase promised in January (the Lecturers union and the National Association of Professors and Doctors in Medical Research broke their previous strike at this point, after the Ministries had agreed to the wage hikes). In different cities, unions are reacting differently, some by threatening indefinite strikes, boycotts of exams, others threatening cyclical strikes every three days. Rebaine has expressed sympathy for this cause (see one of the links above), but this could threaten turn out in the election if the protestors’ demands are not met.