Algeria Faces Unprecedented Election Boycott Campaign

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A protester throws a Molotov cocktail at riot gendarmerie during clashes in Cheraga, on the outskirts of Algiers 31 January 2012. (Photo: REUTERS - Zohra Bensemra)

By: Mourad Traboulsi

Published Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Algeria already suffers from low voter turnout but this year’s parliamentary elections may hit a record low.

Algiers – Algeria has never seen an election boycott campaign like the one currently being carried out in anticipation of the upcoming legislative and local elections in May.

In every city, town, and village, young people refusing to take part in the elections have gathered to level sharp criticisms at political groups participating in the elections. They accuse those who will be participating in the election process of supporting corruption in Algeria.

These young people often talk about oppression and the failures of the government, the parliament, and the rest of the committees created by the “phony elections held every five years that reproduce the same worthless politicians every time,” as one activist put it.

Activists on social networking sites exchange messages calling on Algerians to join in the refusal of the “pseudo-democracy” that has put the greedy in power and “injected corruption into all aspects of the state.” A radical opposition member describes the elections as nothing but “a banquet organized to justify the rape of the country’s wealth by a deviant minority.”

Among the methods of communication employed by boycott advocates are graffiti and the exchange of text messages. The interior ministry has even taken to encouraging people to vote with the slogan: “Taking part in the elections is a citizen’s responsibility.”

Much of the pro-boycott propaganda is satirical. The messages that appear on websites, mobile phones, and the sides of buildings reflect their authors’ cynical and mocking approach to the issues being addressed. This scathing criticism and sarcasm is not restricted to those in power. It also extends to those who identify with the opposition, but support the elections.

Islamists, for example, have borne the brunt of much of these criticisms and outright insults leveled by the boycott movement, because their leaders have been just as vocal as government officials in calling for electoral participation. They believe that what has been called the “Arab Spring” will carry them to victory in the upcoming elections.

Leader of the Algerian Workers’ Party, Louisa Hannoun, has not escaped criticism either. She has called for measures to increase voter turnout and attacked boycott advocates, describing them as opponents of the democratic process.

The base of the boycott movement is diverse. Some have joined because they think that the elections will not produce the desired results within the current political climate of Algeria. They see the elections as only serving to legitimize the rule of a small group of individuals who use the police, administration, media, and public funds to maintain their control over every aspect of the state apparatus.

There are also those who are socially frustrated, and they are generally the unemployed and a large segment of the poor who have lost all faith in politics. They make sarcastic comments such as calling the National Council (Majlis al-Umma in Arabic) the “Council of Oppression” (Majlis al-Ghumma). The National Council is the second chamber of the parliament and its head is second in command after the president.

Opponents of the elections have been meeting in cafes and public spaces to voice their opinions, and have even been engaging people directly on the street. They have been unable to organize official rallies to explain their position because in Algeria having a difference of opinion is not tolerated.

The percentage of those who have refrained from participating in elections has risen steadily over the years. In 1991, it was about 40 percent, and by 2002 it reached 54 percent. In 2007, that number was 65 percent, making it possible to say that Algeria’s largest political party is the “boycott party.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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