While the government seeks to reassert legitimacy through elections after two years of unrest, the popular protest movement sees the ballot box as a symbol of the regime.

Algeria's recent parliamentary election took place under the shadow of the popular protest movements and the government’s attempt to reassert its power amid political paralysis. 

After Saturday's vote, electoral commission chief Mohamed Chorfi said that turnout had been just 30.2 percent, the lowest in a legislative poll in at least 20 years. The electoral commission chief also said it would take 96 hours before official results are announced.

Algeria has been going through a fragile political transition since 2019. Three years ago, widespread protests led by popular protest movement Hirak forced longtime ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika into resignation, after he launched a bid for a fifth term.

Since then, while increasing pressure on the protest movement, the government has looked to restore order through elections and constitutional changes.

Many Algerians, however, believe the real power rests with the military and security establishments who have dominated politics for decades, rather than with elected politicians.

Dr Yasmina Abouzzohour is a researcher at the Brookings Institute and the European Council for Foreign Relations. She says the official turnout rate is arguably fraudulent because it stood at around 14 percent at 4pm on election day and it is unlikely that turnout doubled in four hours when the polls closed at 8pm. 

“Out of around 24.5 million eligible voters, 17.5 million boycotted the election, thereby expressing their rejection of the regime’s roadmap and its attempts to placate the protest movement. It also means that any party that is in the lead does not have the support of a majority of the population, just the majority of voters,” Abouzzohour told TRT World. 

For months, Algerian demonstrators had taken to the streets to protest against the ruling establishment.
For months, Algerian demonstrators had taken to the streets to protest against the ruling establishment. (AP)

Reasserting order

Over the years, Algerians have been hesitant to go to the ballot box which they see as a tool for the continuation of regime, rather than a symbol of change that would address their grievances. 

After Bouteflika was forced to step down after protests in 2019, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected with a turnout of 40 percent. Last year he held a referendum on an amended constitution that gained only 25 percent of votes.

Nevertheless despite the low turnout, President Tebboune is hopeful about the election. 

"For me, the turnout isn't important. What's important is whether the lawmakers that the people elect have enough legitimacy,” the president said.

Since his election, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has carefully followed the military’s roadmap for the elections to restore order without major changes to long-standing rules.

The protesters' ambitious demands for a complete overhaul of the political system, regime change, and the distancing of the military from the political sphere have been cast aside and considered as radical moves servicing Algeria's foreign enemies.

So for the last piece in its electoral jigsaw, the government has adopted an iron fist, requiring prior approval from the interior ministry for all public gatherings which is an impossible demand for a protest movement to achieve. 

Authorities began tightening the screws on the Hirak movement weeks ago before the election with dozens of arrests and a rule that required organisers or marches to be declared - which is unfeasible for a leaderless movement.

Three prominent figures arrested Thursday, including two journalists, were released early Saturday ahead of voting. Late Thursday, opposition activist Karim Tabbou was arrested near his home as well as radio journalist Ihsane El Kadi according to local media. 

The Hirak protest movement that forced Abdelaziz Bouteflika from the presidency two years ago wants to oust the old ruling elite and stop the army interfering in politics. It sees any elections before that as a charade.

"Elections will not give the regime legitimacy, and repression and arrests will not stop the people's peaceful revolution," said Samir Belarbi, a prominent Hirak figure.

Nevertheless, Zine Ghebouli, an Algerian political analyst and a scholar at the University of Glasgow believes the elections were important for two reasons: 

“First, for the system, it represents a vital step to reshape the establishment and consolidate the new political reality where radical change is no longer feasible. Second, for the Hirak, including the traditional opposition [which boycotted the elections], it was another sign that these actors have become unable to attain the change they want to. These elections were, once again, a sign of the opposition’s failure to impose its own roadmap,” Ghebouli told TRT World. 

Supporters of Algeria's Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) political party, Algiers on June 8, 2021.
Supporters of Algeria's Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) political party, Algiers on June 8, 2021. (AFP)

A hybrid parliament under military shadow

The election was supposed to exemplify President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “new Algeria” with an emphasis on young candidates and those outside the traditional political elite. 

A huge number of candidates, more than 20,000, ran for the 407-seat parliament which was once dominated by a two-party alliance considered unlikely to maintain its grip on the legislature.

Firstly, the parties of the former presidential alliance which collapsed when Bouteflika stepped down as president, will most likely lose votes, as they are viewed as pro-regime and are blamed for the ongoing political and economic crises.

Also, the parliament will be absent of veteran left-wing opposition parties such as the Socialist Forces Front, Rally for Culture and Democracy, and Workers Party since they decided to boycott the elections. 

This picture enables the emergence of conservative parties such as the Movement of Society for Peace and the El Bina Party.

The conservative parties have struggled to gain electoral support after the devastating civil war that ended in 2002. But Abouzzohour says “they may now have an opportunity to gain more influence in parliament due to the tense political climate, the regime’s legitimacy crisis, and the lack of a strong, credible alternative.”

However, political analyst Zine Ghebouli says it will be interesting to see the shape of the new parliament which could impose a government of national unity since it is unlikely that any list or party could get the majority.

But Abouzzohour warns that no matter the result of the election, the military leadership will remain in control.

“Despite its pledge to remain neutral, the army will likely have a say in which parties rise to power after the election. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that any party would win the majority against the wishes of the military, or that any party would be able to challenge the army.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies