A “policy of silence” from the government about the April vote continues to frustrate the public and evidences a deep societal rift
Algerian press reported that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has set April 18 as the date for the country’s next elections. The process leading up to the vote has thus far been shrouded in secrecy—dubbed a “policy of silence” by observers—creating political instability and raising questions about the 20-year leader’s intention to run for an additional term.
Francesca Fabbri, a policy analyst at the European Policy Center, told The Media Line that the longtime strong-man is in “poor health due to his advanced age” and is facing many challenges including “the depletion of Algeria’s foreign currency reserves; high unemployment rates in the nation; a frustrated rural population that considers itself neglected; and rising social unrest.”
Algeria also is isolated from other countries in the Maghreb, with tensions at a boiling point with neighboring Morocco which has asserted control over the contested Western Sahara.
“The current [domestic] political context,” Fabbri explained, “is one in which other parties in the system have been left in the dark and cannot defy [Bouteflika]. The only attempt I have seen is to try to postpone the elections to allow parties time to find new candidates and [amend their platforms]. Otherwise, there is this a sense that things are suspended, with few solutions, and that leaders are not revealing what is happening behind the curtain.
“Furthermore, the senate vote that took place last month,” she elaborated, “confirms the continuation of [the ruling] National Liberation Front’s control, suggesting that the government does not intend to make many changes.”
A recent local media report noted that the Algerian people “had expected the announcement of critical decisions by President Bouteflika [on December 27].… However, these speculations fell through…[which] indicates that political parties have no official information about the future situation in the country. This is even the case of those claiming to be close to the presidency and decision-making circles.”
This lack of transparency is being countered by the citizenry, which has started taking to social media to spark political debate.
“The country’s leadership should keep in mind that Algerian youth have the numbers on their side, with 55 percent of the population under thirty years old,” Dr. Dalia Ghanem Yazbeck, resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace Middle East Center, contended to The Media Line. “Unless Algerian youth are given the means to participate in political life and engage in advocacy, and unless their concerns are addressed, dissatisfaction may mount and could undermine national stability.
“There is a serious crisis of trust,” she added, “as the [rich and well-educated coastal] elites are far from the people and their demands. If things remain as they are it might be difficult to bridge the gulf between the two. Officials seem deaf to what the people showed them in several elections that happened lately…where the level of participation hardly reached 35 percent.”
Thus far, there is little sign that the government will attempt to narrow internal socio-economic gaps. As the election nears, Algeria’s youth could potentially force the hand of Bouteflika, although he has weathered past difficulties and maintained his hold on power even after being incapacitated for some time in 2013 following a stroke.
The potential for change always exists, though, as demonstrated by the Arab Spring revolutions that rocked the Middle East in North Africa beginning in 2010. But for this to happen, analysts emphasize the need for a more unified opposition, albeit this potentiality has been stymied—perhaps not inadvertently—by the government’s apparent interference in the electoral process.
“If the situation continues,” Fabbri concluded, “I think that there will be protests on some scale that will prove to be quite subversive to the regime.”
(Victor Cabrera is a student intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)