As the Algerian election campaign continues, candidates grumble and squirm. To legitimize that which is not legitimate is not as easy as it seems.
Fawzi Rebiane is continuing to accuse the state of stepping into the electoral campaign, accusing state officials of “actively campaigning” on the president’s behalf. It might be fitting for Rebiane to add Reuters to his list of complicit outlets: One of its latest pieces reads like an El Moudjahid article, casting Bouteflika’s likely victory as “a reward for stability”. A more accurate description would be a “reward for consolidation and cheating.”
As mentioned in previous posts, Bouetflika’s effort to reach out to Kabylia is floundering. His Kabylia visit failed to generate spontaneous mass marches of young people demanding that be allowed to vote early. Instead, it prompted students in Bejaia to hit the streets in favor of the boycott. Last week, Said Sadi and Hocine Ait Ahmed denounced the election, in familiar terms: Sadi called it a coup in disguise. Karim Tabbou, a top FFS official told supporters in Ghardaia that the regime “cannot remain indefinitely. Anyway, we already won the psychological battle. Panic circles of power is the best evidence,” referring to the government’s efforts to boost voter turn out in the face of what will likely be a tremendously low showing.
The regime is worried enough that turn out in Algiers will be paltry that it has set up a large apparatus to inform voters that they will be able to vote for President Bouteflika on Thursday. Expatriate Algerians in Europe, Tunisia and elsewhere are also being mobilized: If at first one cannot win votes at home, he my try and try again to get them from where ever else they might be. Why are Algerian missions so eager to reach Algerians now, as opposed to most the rest of the time when expats are treated most rudely? Because many Algerians outside the country are unfamiliar with the candidates, save for Bouteflika, and the regime believes that it can count on these votes to go to the president, and if they can scrounge up enough voters, it will not matter which way they go: Every vote cast is a vote for Bouteflika. The larger the number, the greater the “mandate,” theoretically. To ensure practical legitimacy, 100 African Union observers will watch the elections, a point the government caved on to opposition voices.
The boycott campaign now has the backing of al-Qaeda: The terrorist group called Bouteflika their “ferocious enemy“. Strong words to describe a gnome.
Amid these grumblings, Moussa Touati, playing his role, is telling voters he believes he can win. Perhaps most appealing to the youth is Touati’s promise to shorten military service terms. He has promised to make Algeria independent of the outside for its food, with heavy investment in the agricultural sector. His appeals to the poor also make him likely to gain votes: Not to mention that he has been a chief arneb (hare) for some time. Constantly sunny in his view of the elections — he regularly tells his supporters and reporters that government meddling is insignificant or not enough to obscure the vote — and raspy in his delivery, Touati helps the regime to boost turn out in areas that are utterly inaccessible to Bouteflika. It would be easy to believe that Touati’s positive attitude was in emulation of the “hope and change”, but such is not the nature of Algerian politics.