10/04/2009

Presidential elections in Algeria

Press review – week from April 6 to 10, 2009

On April 9th 2009, Algerian citizens were called to the polls for the presidential elections to which Abdelaziz Bouteflika– president since 1999 and who had voted an amendment in 2008 allowing himself to stand for the 3rd consecutive time- was candidate. These elections’ results were expected to be without any surprise by all media. Often seen as a “joke”, these elections are for many “a denial of democracy”.

« Chronicle of an announced victory »

According to La Libre Belgique, the goal of the elections was only for the President to establish its legitimacy by obtaining a score at least equivalent to the one he reached five years ago (84.99% of votes), despite the calls for a boycott by the “traditional opposition”.

For its part, France 24 points out that the opposition to the President compares the situation to a “Tunisian syndrome » in Algeria, in reference to the long “reign” of Tunisian President Ben Ali, and fears the advent of a « presidency for life » in Algeria.

The Washington Post said such a re-election is important in the eyes of the world because Algeria has the 15th largest world oil reserves and accounts for 20% of gas imports to Europe. Furthermore, Europe has no interest in any political or economic destabilization as this would lead to waves of illegal migrants to its shores and the United States believe that they need Mr. Bouteflika in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

However, we can notice that despite the obviously expected victory of A. Bouteflika by all, since the launch of the campaign, a part of the Algerian press does not hesitate to believe in a decisive ballot. Le Courier d’Algérie went to the extreme to estimate that « today (Thursday 9avril ends suspense that held Algeria for months », opinion in total opposition to all international analysis and a recognized daily like El Watan.

Besides, A. Bouteflika’s victory is not only an expected victory but also a large one, considering the quasi “Stalinian” official figures of 90, 24%, reported in El Watan. Louisa Hanoune is second with only 4,22% of the votes.

The participation rate, the only issue

If the election’s outcome seemed obvious before Thursday, the participation rate has remained unknown before the election. According to Le Monde, Mr. Bouteflika wanted to be re-elected with a participation rate higher than in 2004 (which was officially 55%). The relatives of the president even predicted the participation to “go beyond 60%”. During his campaign, A. Bouteflika even declared that « the president who does not get an overwhelming majority of the people is not a president”.

However, participation rates in elections in Algeria are declining, stressed France 24. From 60% in 1999 and 55% in 2004, participation decreased to 35% in the general elections in 2007, the lowest in the history of Algeria.

As a precaution, the issue of abstention was minimized by the Interior Minister, Yazid Zerhouni, who said that « the abstention should not be a complex » in Le quotidien d’Oran.

However and contrary to the expectations of many analysts, the Interior Ministry announced on Friday morning a participation rate of over 74% in El Watan. For the daily, « the authority offered itself what it wanted: a record. » However, Le Figaro raises a « disturbing » question: despite the official very high participation rate, the media correspondents saw only few people in polling desks.

In Le Monde, Moussa Touati, the president of the Algerian National Front (Nationalist), Mohammed Said of the Justice and Freedom Party (Islamic), Ali Fawzi Rebaïne (nationalist) Djahid Younsi (El Islah, moderate Islamist), protested against a “jam of ballot boxes” and found “fraud” cases. In El Watan, the RCD party refers to irregularities using artificial flow of voters, consisting of military and civilian police transported by bus to the various polling centers. The opposition also denounces intimidations.

In addition, the Minister of Interior, Mr Zerhouni reported three attempted terrorist attacks in Tizi-Ouzou, Boumerdes and Tipaza.

For its part, the APS (Algérie Presse Service) reports that the coordinator of the National Political Commission of the presidential election Supervisory, Mr. Mohamed Teguia said « the elections took place under good conditions, no incidents or irregularities have been reported so far ». The head of the observer mission of the Arab League for the presidential election, Mr. Chadli Nefati, also assured that « no irregularities were found » welcoming « the facilities « granted to his mission to accomplish its tasks.

Irregularities during the campaign

The campaign apparently did not enjoy a total equity. L’Express reported that its edition of April 2nd has been « unavailable » in Algeria because it contained an article on A. Bouteflika. The official reason was because the magazine « harms the national values. » Indeed, Article 26 of the Algerian code on information says that « periodical and specialized publications, national or foreign (…) shall not contain any illustration, narrative, information or insertion contrary to Islamic morality, national values, human rights or advocate racism, fanaticism and treason. » Le Journal du Dimanche and Marianne seem to have experienced similar blockages from the power.

Furthermore, France 24 reveals a study conducted by the Algerian NGO LADDH (Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights) showing that the media have spent three times more time on A. Bouteflika’s campaign than on each of his five competitors.

The Algerians’ disillusion

El Watan highlights the climate of indifference in which the ballot took place since people already knew the results. El Watan’s editorial explains that « the political system had never supported that way the supreme leader expected to embody it »  while Le Monde highlighted the cult of personality enjoyed by A. Bouteflika and collected testimonies of Algerians considering as a « non-sense to give his vote to a president for life ».

Despite this, the APS reported that « Citizens, to the polls », « Prelude to a massive participation », « Algeria on new look » or « This is the box of truth » were, among others, titles of a part of the national press on Thursday.

This election took place in a country, where, despite the fact that the State has received 140 billion of petrodollars thanks to the country’s gas and oil, the population has difficulties eating correctly, for example after the multiplication by five of the price of potatoes in only a few days, said Le Figaro. If the security situation seems to have improved in recent years, the country is however the victim of a « creeping Islamization » due to the policy of impunity Bouteflika set up and Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a now a very serious threat.

On Friday April 10th, President Bouteflika has won his bet thanks the wave of participation he had required and despite the indifference of the Algerian population facing an election with a foregone conclusion. Algerians are now at the dawn of a third term of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose two previous presidencies have not allowed people to benefit from the oil and gas windfall in their own country despite the impressive income of the State.