In spite of low expected voter turn-out, the regime is expected to ignore protestor demands and do its best to claim a win for stability.
On December 12, Algeria’s widely boycotted elections will determine a successor to Abdelaziz Bouteflika who ruled the country for 20 years.
At the ballot boxes however, the vote may only account for a small minority of Algeria’s 41 million citizens.
The majority of Algerians have already made up their minds to boycott elections. In Algiers, pictures of candidates and their campaign promises are covered with garbage bags, or plastered with photos of jailed protestors.
For some like Mohammed, a tram driver from the ancient city of Constantine who spoke to TRT World, it’s all a big joke.
“I’ll tell you something. These guys talk a lot about giving us dignity, but I’m pretty sure they mean a friend from some cabaret with the same name. The Algerian people have dignity. What we don’t have is justice. They give us that, and I’ll vote.”
At one ballot station, the few voters entering or exiting were met by ridicule and cries of “Shame on you!”by crowds. One candidate cancelled his first rally due to a lack of turn-out.
For the majority, electoral fraud is a certainty.
“They’ll take a 5 percent turn-out, and blow it up into a 55 percent turn-out with an 80 percent landslide victory for their man. It’s nothing new to them. It’s industrial,” says Khalid Bousadoun who works at Algiers’ airport and spoke to TRT World.
All five contenders for the election are widely seen as regime candidates. The two front-runners, Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Ali Benflis both served as prime minister under the regime.
It’s no surprise why most Algerians expect ‘industrial’ fraud. Bouteflika himself won 90 percent of the vote in 2009, and 85 percent in 2004. After a widely unpopular change to the constitution to accommodate his fourth term he still won by a landslide 81.5 percent vote with 51 percent voter turn-out.
An on-going criminal trial said on Sunday that Bouteflika’s last election campaign this year caused a loss to the public treasury valued at 110 billion dinar, or $920 million.
But the election’s legitimacy suffers from more than just past precedent. Since the beginning of the ‘Hirak’ or ‘Movement’ six months ago that saw millions of Algerians protesting on the streets demanding change, the regime has tried to push an election date after meeting nominal demands by the public.
It’s an age-old political tactic, and an effective one that could be used to slow protests’ momentum and ignore unmet demands.
“They’ve tried this before. Gaid Salah wants to hold a sham election for his people, and then tell the people to wait for the elected government to make the changes they want, which they won’t and can’t, because he’s both the problem and their boss. Any change they make won’t rid us of the rot of corruption we’re out here trying to purge, because they’re just puppets,” says Ahmed Soufianne, a student at Guelma University who spoke to TRT World.
“It’s like a toxic relationship,” quips Soufianne.
“You say it’s over, and you have to go. But they don’t listen, don’t make an effort, and instead try to convince you they’re doing you a favour. They all have to go,” he finishes.
Deadlines for nominations ended on October 26, with only nine candidates making their submissions. Under Algeria’s election law, each aspiring candidate must submit 50,000 registered voter signatures from at least 25 states, with a minimum of 1,200 signatures in each state.
The law naturally puts independents at a disadvantage, regardless of their platform.
But the nomination window was only announced on September 12, giving hopeful Presidential candidates very little time to get to work.
With the closing of nominations, 147 candidates withdrew their signature collection campaigns, setting the public stance against elections in stone.
With little in the way of an opposition, regime-candidates had a smooth ride to the ballot box.
The majority of Algeria’s credible opposition figures and activists live in exile, with standing orders for their arrest upon return, falling afoul of the country’s draconian Lese-majeste laws, protecting the military or president from criticism or defamation.
The law, which effectively stifles free speech, can lead up to 10 years in prison. Algerians can easily run afoul of crimes of “compromising the integrity of the territory”, “distributing publications harmful to the national interest” or “calling for unauthorized gatherings.”
Meanwhile, the majority of new opposition figures who rose to the top of popular protests that swept the country are jailed.
As opposition protests continue to mount against the elections, the regime arrests hundreds of activists and figures per day, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
While the majority are released in time, an undocumented but rising number of journalists, leaders and organizers are remaining behind bars as the opposition is being slowly bled of its figureheads.
Bread and Games
To appease the public, the regime began a trial on Wednesday, December 4, where prosecutors are requesting 20-year prison sentences for several politicians accused of corruption. But the trial has come under fire for being the hatchet with which Gaid Salah disposes of his rivals.
Previously, the Chief of Staff sent dozens of Bouteflika’s closest allies and tycoons to prison in a maneuvering purge that rid him of rivals, and established him as the dominant political force in the regime. This included Bouteflika’s brother who had tried to remove Gaid Salah from office, which culminated in the brother being sentenced to 15 years of prison.
The trial bears the first fruit of sweeping fraud and corruption investigations launched into the old regime following Bouteflika’s resignation in April, after his bid for a fifth term in February was met with public uproar.
The trial is examining two former prime ministers, former politicians and industry tycoons who face charges ranging from money laundering, abuse of power, and granting illegal perks.
Meanwhile, the regime and its candidates remain wilfully silent towards the public’s demands.
On Tuesday, Salah Eddine Dahmoune, Algeria’s interior minister, labelled critics “pseudo-Algerians, traitors, mercenaries, perverts and homosexuals.”
For the five remaining candidates, after struggling to fill campaign rallies, being hounded by angry crowds, and having their posters covered with garbage bags, they could only repeat their pleas for protestors to vote.
But it’s not likely they’ll be heard, if only because the protestors’ cries have already fallen on deaf ears.