Victor and Vanquished in Algerian Presidential Elections

Here are some graphs showing some trends in recent Algerian presidential elections from 1995-2009. In themselves they say very little; but what they are interesting in that they chart Bouteflika’s progressive domination of the political scene by looking at the number of candidates, the percentage of the vote won by victors (i.e., Zeroual and Bouteflika) and the opposition “winners” (second place candidates) and “losers” (last place opposition candidates). There is nothing new (or scientific) in this post; all of it has been out in the public domain for some time and the observations are not especially new. Yet graphs are fun and, since succession questions are spinning around, there is no real harm in looking at some electoral trends over the last decade and a half. Another set, looking parliament is also in order (later).

In at least the last decade two observations can be made: (1) 1999-2009 has been one of Bouteflika’s ascendence and consolidation and (2) anybody opposing him (through formal political processes at least) or actively seeking to court his favor can be called a “loser” in Algerian politics. The second observation can be divided into two further observations: (1) that those seeking to oppose him through formal means have found themselves effectively shut out of any central or meaningful advisory capacity in government; and (2) those who have sought his favor have been minor actors seeking to gain prestige and notoriety by opposing him through formal mechanisms which “legitimizes” as tightly control political processes and gets them in the newspapers but often do this at the expense of their popular credibility. Algerians refer to this as “letting the bunnies out of the cage.”

Set A shows deals with the opposition.

Note that the total percentage of the vote won by the combined opposition declines regardless of how many candidates run.

Second place candidates also see their share of the vote decline somewhat in line with the over all opposition, again regardless of the number of candidates.

Last place candidates see a rapid decline in their share of the vote but have made slight gains in the last two presidential elections.

Voter turnout is notoriously suspicious in Algeria; journalists, citizens and observers usually consider reported turnout to be massively exaggerated. In 2009 many journalists and everyday people had it that Algiers was practically silent because of a well-coordinated boycott. There is no intense variation in the number of candidates, except in 1995 for circumstantial (and obviously political) reasons; the MSP’s Mahfoud Nahnah takes 25% of the vote and his cohorts go on to take a significant share in parliament. This lays the ground work for the “dialogue” and “reconciliation” process and for the MSP’s inclusion in government in 2003, neutralizing them as a political threat altogether. The variation in turnout speaks to political priorities; the 1995 and 2009 votes in particular represent critical moments in establishing the regime’s authority and legitimacy. The relatively large number of candidates in 1999 also speaks to such a priority, even if they dropped out at the last minute. In 2004 Ali Benflis stood against Bouteflika and his rebellion and defeat had the FLN replace him with Abdelaziz Belkhadem as Secretary-General.

It worth noting that in 2009 the candidates standing for election were, with the exception of Louisa Hanoune (the second place candidate and who stood in 2004), all relatively minor in stature and following. (Moussa Touati has become more prominent since.) Those who stood did so to raise their own profiles (Hanoune, Touati) or because they had nothing to loose from running (everyone else). The major candidates who stood in 2004 were more substantive, having stronger party and parliamentary followings and political capital. Because the 2009 election came after the removal of term limits and participation was seen as merely validating Bouteflika’s continued rule running would have cost more political capital than it would have earned. In Hanoune’s case it served as a quid pro quo; Hanoune, as a woman, could help the regime project a progressive image (Look women can run for president! Algeria is modern!) and, because she was most well known candidate she could gain the prestige of being the second place candidate thus increasing her party’s standing. In Touati’s case it put him on better terms with the authorities and made him a national political figure in a way he had not been previously. The high turnout in 2009 is meant to validate Bouteflika’s mandate, especially its “extension.”

Set B looks at victory.

The trend is for the victor to be more victorious and the losers to be ever more vanquished. The message appears to strengthen the electoral legitimacy of the president and to pour cold water on the opposition, at least on paper.

B. 2. compares the votes of the victors, second place candidates and last place candidates. This reenforces the immediately previous idea; in each election, the winner is a bigger winner and the losers are bigger losers. “Bouteflika reigns supreme!”

This compares the victor’s share of the vote with turnout. Turnout is lower in 1999 and 2004 than in 1995 or 2009 (though 1999 is slight higher than 2004).

This chart shows that official turnout and the opposition vote seem to be unrelated. Regardless of turnout, the victor’s share increases and the opposition’s decreases. Such is the nature of [national] electoral politics in Algeria.

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