Kamel Daoud writes a pithy poignant column, ‘Raina Raikoum’ (My Opinion, Your Opinion) for the Quotidien d’Oran. His novels and short stories have won several awards. He can also be read in Slate Afrique (slateafrique.com) This skeptical look at Algeria’s upcoming legislative elections ran in the Quotidien d’Oran on April 4, 2012.
Let’s take it from the top. Candidates for the upcoming elections have first been screened by the Administration, otherwise known as the system, alias the Pouvoir, alias not us, but them. Candidates have then been interrogated by the police and the gendarmerie before running for office, whereas it’s after their term in office that they should be questioned, under the law requiring full disclosure of wealth. Candidates have then been either confirmed or rejected and excluded by the wali (powerful appointed governors of Algeria’s wilayas or states) who has the discretionary power to reject candidates, under a law we weren’t told about. Two hundred million dollars have been spent for transparent ballot boxes (the old ones werent see through enough?)
And finally, after all this rigamarole, you are called on to vote, that is to validate the process. Let’s run through it again. Voting is a choice but you do not have the choice not to vote, or even to speak of not voting. The MJIC, Independent Youth Seeking Change, had some of its members arrested in Algiers because they were giving out leaflets urging people not to vote. How come? Voting is not a matter of choice; you are obliged to make your choice, and choose to vote. Sound crazy? The explanation is simple. The vote is meant for foreign consumption, like certain species of Southern dates. What matters is not election results but the level of voter participation in what is being called a referendum, a plebiscite on “reforms”
Besides, the MJIC is a young people’s movement and the upcoming vote is an old men’s choice, for an entrenched system in its old age, run by old men, relying on old men and the precocious aging of a population caught between wrinkles and remembrance. Arresting those Algiers activists was a biological as well as a political act.
Hangers on against the youngest generation. Relics against the new world.
So Bouaziz is dead, Kadhafi too, Moubarak is close, Ali Salah is getting there, Bachar already dead, Ben Ali completely gone, but here, among us, zilch. Nothing has changed. The same methods, the same propaganda, the same prohibitions on saying no, or on saying I’ll vote, but in another way, the same government that casts the final vote, before the people are heard from, the same gaming the selection of candidates, the same parties, for that matter, but with new acronyms, the same power taken from the people and given to the walis, appointed officials. You don’t democratize a system with a speech. This is one of the astonishing illusions the old generation in power clings to: they think all they have to do is give orders and they can make it rain; that vowing to change is the same as changing. The current system will only accept what suits it. Your participation is controlled, mapped out, preset.
We might have believed in the voting process if we had the right to say, I do not want to vote, but that is not the case. A former member of the Constitutional Council went so far as to explain, on national TV, that those who fail to vote are outlaws, hardened criminals who will be easily identified, come May 11th, because they won’t have black ink on their left index finger. For some of us, many in fact, “has voted” has already been stamped, on our backs.
Translated by Suzanne Ruta