Algeria

Last update: 1 month ago

The People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria is an Islamic, Arab and Amazigh (Berber) country. Since the early 19th century Algeria was a French colony. Algeria gained independence after a bloody war between 1954 and 1962. After the independence, Algeria became increasingly more authoritarian. A violent civil war broke out, which was the result of an undemocratic interference of the military. The Civil War (1991-2001) ended when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika introduced an amnesty based peace plan. A tenuous roadmap towards democracy was created under strict state control and emergency law. There seemed to be little democratic progress in the years afterwards. 

In 2008 parliament amended the Algerian Constitution, removing the two-term limit of the presidency. This allowed Bouteflika to run again in the 2009 elections, which he won. He promised to create more jobs. However, his government failed to do so and Algeria continues to struggle with high youth unemployment and corruption up until today. This was part of the reason why in 2011 protests erupted, as part of the Arab Spring. This triggered some minor changes, with the 19-year long state of emergency being lifted and some political reforms being implemented. In practice the country’s ruling elite, based in the military and the National Liberation Front (FLN) party, continued to wield power in the country.

When Bouteflika announced he would run for president again in the planned April 2019 elections, young people en-masse took to the streets. This has been dubbed the Hirak movement. Bouteflika succumbed to the pressure of the protesters and high-placed military officials, postponed the elections and stepped down. Abdelmadjid Tebboune, also of the FLN, was elected president in December of 2019. However, protesters desire actual political change. Due to COVID-19 many stayed indoors in 2020, but in January of 2021 protests significantly grew in size again. Tebboune dissolved parliament and called early elections in June of 2021, but people continue to take to the streets. 

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Map of Algeria

Short facts

Population:
43.05 million (World Bank 2019 est.)
Governmental Type:
Republic
Ruling Coalition:
National Liberation Front (FLN), National Rally for Democracy (RND)
Last Elections:
12 December 2019 (presidential elections)
Next Elections:
12 June 2021 (early parliamentary elections)
Sister Parties:
None
Image of Abdelmadjid Tebboune

Abdelmadjid Tebboune

President

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Image of Abdelaziz Djerad

Abdelaziz Djerad

Prime Minister

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Political Situation

Since the civil war, Algeria has been on the road towards democracy, although this has been a strenuous one. The reconciliation plan of Abdelaziz Bouteflika stabilized the country. The rebels of the Islamic Salvation Army that fought the government during the civil war were granted amnesty and reintegrated into society. The economy started growing from around the early 2000s, raising the standard of living of the population. However, much of this growth was due to rising oil prices. With oil making up 95 percent of exports and 60 percent of the government’s budget, the country is heavily dependent on the oil price. This makes the economy extremely volatile, having a significant impact on the political stability.

The growth of the standard of living allowed the ruling elite, based in the military and the National Liberation Front (FLN) party of Bouteflika, to maintain a tight grip on the country. Political and economic reforms were continuously promised, but little changed in practice. When Bouteflika’s second term as president was coming to an end, constitutional changes were implemented that abolished the two-term limit for the presidency. This allowed Bouteflika to run for a third, and later a fourth, term. Only when he officially announced to run for a fifth term in 2019, the population finally had enough. At the point the 82-year old was rarely seen in public, in a wheelchair and not able to speak. 

Although Algeria can be described as on a democratic crossroad in 2021, the country still lacks fundamental civil liberties, a democratic political culture and political participation. The military continues to pull most of the strings in politics. Despite there being multiple opposition parties, elections are distorted and the electoral process is not transparent. One cannot speak of ‘real’ opposition to the regime in parliament. The country continues to struggle with violent suppression of protests, legal restrictions on the independence of media and widespread corruption. Despite many promises in the last ten years, little has practically been altered. However, the pressure on the regime is increasing and the massive protests seem to be triggering some change, be it in the long run. 

2011 protests as part of the Arab spring
People followed the example of other Arab countries in 2011. Widespread protests broke out over the sudden increase in staple food prices. The government lowered the food prices, but the Arab spring in neighbouring countries inspired labour unions, opposition parties and religious groups to organise large-scale protests across the entire country. In late February, Bouteflika’s government lifted the 19-year state of emergency in response to the protests. As a response to the unrest the authorities promised to make the 2012 parliamentary elections a next step on the road towards more democratisation. But while officials billed the elections as 'an Algerian spring' they were mainly marked by a low turnout. Most Algerians prefered stability over political change.

Hirak movement
In the years afterwards the economy started stagnating and even declining from around 2014. The drop in oil prices had an equally negative impact on the standard of living. Youth unemployment started rising again. Young people especially turned against the Bouteflika regime and formed the basis for the 2019 protests, which is called the Hirak movement. Hirak can be loosely translated from Arabic as ‘mobilization of people’ or ‘movement’. Tens of thousands peacefully took to the streets, demanding a complete overhaul of the political system. Protesters were pushing for change and demanded the “removal of everyone” linked to the governing elite. As a result, when Bouteflika resigned and interim President Abdelkader Bensalah took over, protesters were not satisfied yet.

After the election in 2019, which saw Abdelmadjid Tebboune of the FLN gain a majority of the votes, people continued to take to the streets. This was quite unsurprising given the fact that almost the entire new cabinet of Tebboune consisted of politicians who previously served as ministers under Bouteflika. Only when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in March of 2020, the protests temporarily stopped. Due to rising COVID-19 infections organizers urged people to stay inside. Distrust in the Tebboue-led government only grew as a result of its poor management of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which in the end  sparked more protests.

The president
The head of the executive branch of Algeria is an elected president for a term of five years. One is only allowed to serve as president for two terms, either consecutive or separately. Candidates can be nominated by a popular petition of at least 50.000 registered voters. The president holds a strong position, having power over the judiciary and having many abilities to block votes in parliament. Moreover, the prime minister is also appointed by the president and can be revoked by the president. The prime minister in turn, appoints the members of the cabinet. There is no limit to the number of terms a prime minister can serve, as well as how long one term is. This is completely decided by the president. The country’s current president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune has been in power since December 2019, after which he appointed Abdelaziz Djerad as prime minister. 

The parliament
The People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria has a bicameral parliament, which consists of the National People’s Assembly and the National Council. The National People's Assembly (the lower house) consists of 462 members who are elected with the universal, direct suffrage according to the proportional representation system. Eight of these seats are reserved for Algerians living abroad. The term of legislature is five years, which can only be renewed once. The members of the National People’s Assembly are directly elected in 48 multi-member constituencies - corresponding to country’s wilayas (administrative districts) - with seats allotted according to the population: one seat for every 80,000 inhabitants and one supplementary seat for every fraction of 40,000. No wilaya has less than four seats. Voting is not compulsory. Either the president or one of the parliamentary chambers may initiate legislation. 

In December 1991 the first free multiparty general elections for the former National People’s Assembly were held. After the first round it was very clear that the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was going to win. The army then cancelled the elections and suspended the constitution. This escalated and was followed by widespread disturbances and numerous arrests of prominent Islamists. After the Civil War (1992-2001) had cooled down an advisory body on legislation, the National Consultative Council, was set up in April 1992. This body functioned until the National Transitional Council was inaugurated in 1994, which worked towards the adoption of a new electoral law. In 1997 this new electoral law was adopted, shortly after which elections were announced. Elections have been taking place every five years since then. 

The National Council (the upper house) was first instituted in 1996 and consists of 144 seats. Wilaya assemblies indirectly elect 96 members of the National Council and 48 are appointed by the president. The term of legislature is six years, of which half of the members are being re-elected or reappointed every three years. Currently the FLN of Tebboune holds 59 seats, the RND 28 seats, with remaining factions and independents making up the remainder of the elected seats. Since July of 2019 Slimane Chenine has been the president of the National Council.The National Council is a legislative branch and must approve any law approved by the National Assembly with a three-quarters majority.

Gender representation and women’s rights
In Algeria’s current parliament, 26% of all 462 seats belong to female MPs. This was largely due to the adoption of a quota in Algerian law, that stated that parliament should for 30% be made up of women. In the National Council this is much lower, with only 6% of the 144 seats belonging to women. On local levels, the political participation of women also remains low, because the elections are more personal and many fear the consequences it could have on their daily lives. Women remain reluctant to run for office and are regularly not able to attain the most meaningful positions within parliament. Nevertheless, the representation of women in politics is growing, also due to measures taken by the legislative. By constitution, discrimination on the basis of sex is forbidden and the state is required to ensure the status of equality. 

In 2015 the parliament voted in favour of several amendments to the penal code, which criminalise some forms of domestic violence. For example, assault against one’s partner or former partner is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and in cases of death even a life sentence is possible. Furthmore, sexual harassment in public has been criminalised. But concrete measures and regulations for authorities on how to prevent and react to domestic violence are still missing. Also, divorcing remains more difficult for women than for men. An unilateral divorce is possible for men, but women need to apply to a court and in case the husband objects, have to pay back their dowry. 

There are organisations, which fight for the legal situation of women and the implementation of the human rights that are already written down in the Algerian constitution. An example for feminist activist groups is the Reseau Wassila/Avife (Association contre les violences faites aux femmes et aux enfants). Demands for gender equality have become stronger as part of the Hirak movement, which has made NGOs fighting for women’s rights more vocal. Women continue to face legal and societal discrimination, such as lower wages than men for similar position, sexual harassment and a lack of women in leadership positions. Moreover, daughters are only entitled to the equivalent to half of the brother’s share of inheritance. As such, the Hirak movement has called for a renewed commitment to the status of equality as stated in the constitution. 

LGBTI rights
As for LGBTI minorities, Algeria takes a rather conservative stance. Homosexuality is a crime and punishable by up to two or three years in prison, through the application of several laws. Authorities have arrested people for same-sex relations, but it is uncommon to be actually prosecuted. The number of prosecutions has also declined over the years. Even though this is the case, LGBTI people feel vulnerable. When LGBTI people bring their own complaints to the police, they are often pressured to abandon their charges. If not, then they will be prosecuted on the grounds of their sexuality.  LGBTI people also have to deal with discrimination from health workers and from their employers. The LGBTI community is not represented in politics and has few means through which it can fight for its political interests.

Meanwhile, there are many reports of violent reactions and hate crimes towards openly LGBTI people. The public opinion opposes more rights for affected persons, because it goes against Islamic faith and Sharia law. Across the country, you can nonetheless find small groups of the LGBTI community that try to raise awareness, such as Gays et Lesbiennes d’Algérie and the Algerian Gay Organization. Despite the anti-homosexuality laws in Algeria, the public’s aprroval of homosexuality is higher compared to other countries in the region. A survey conducted by Princeton University in 2019 found that 26% of Algerians think that it is acceptable to be gay, the highest aproval rating in the MENA region.

Elections

2020 constitutional referendum
In an effort to prevent future protests from taking place, Tebboune initiated a referendum on the adoption of a new constitution. The constitution would expand the powers of parliament, promote the independence of the judiciary, combat corruption, strengthen citizens’ rights and balance the power of the president. It was designed to meet the demands of the Hirak movement, but critics point out that in practice it would change little. Although the abolished 2-term limit to the presidency was re-installed, Tebboune would be able to govern in a similar manner to Bouteflika. As a consequence, the Hirak movement has been boycotting the entire referendum, which was held on November 1. The new constitution was adopted with a historic low voter-turnout. Not even a quarter of the electorate turned out to vote, with also 10% of votes which were cast blank or were invalid.

Parliamentary elections

2021 parliamentary elections
As predicted, Algeria’s main ruling parties have lost a significant portion of seats in the June 12 parliamentary elections, which were marked by a low voter turnout. Traditionally the country’s largest party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), managed to gain 105 seats in parliament. Despite remaining the largest party, this was down 56 seats from the 2017 election result. The Islamist Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) overtook the Democratic National Rally (RND) as the second largest party. The MSP increased its share of seats from 34 to 64. Meanwhile, the RND lost 43 seats, becoming the third largest party in parliament with 57 seats.

Another Islamist party, Future Front, has also significantly increased its number of seats from 14 to 48. As such, it became the fourth largest party in the country. The last party to gain a significant proportion of the seats, was the Islamist Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), which managed to maintain its 40. The Rally for Hope for Algeria (TAJ) and Algerian Popular Movement (MPA), which previously held 20 and 13 seats respectfully, both failed to gain any seats this time. The remaining eight parties which were elected into parliament all gained three or less seats. 78 seats are assigned to independents. As expected, the Islamist parties have increased their number of seats significantly.

Election Results

Party

Seats in 2021

Change from 2017 

National Liberation Front (FLN)

105

-56

Independent candidates

78

+50

Movement for Society and Peace (MSP)

64

+30

National Rally for Democracy (RND)

57

-43

Future Front

48

+34

El Bina Movement

40

+40

The Voice of the People

3

+2

Good Governance Front (FBG)

3

+3

Justice and Development Front (FDJ)

2

-

El Fadjr El Djadid

2

+2

Freedom and Justice Party (PLJ)

2

+2

Jil Jadid

1

+1

New Algerian Front (FAN)

1

+1

El Karama

1

-2

Total

407 -

 

Ruling parties likely to maintain influence despite election loss
Despite the ruling FLN, and the supporting party RND, losing the election, they will be able to maintain most of their influence through newly elected independents. Many young people ran this election, hoping to attract the many younger Algerian voters. Many of them remain close with the established parties though, with all independents below 40 receiving government aid. There are 204 seats needed for a majority in the 407 seat Algerian parliament. The FLN and RND combined will only have 163 seats in total, but with the support of independent members of parliament the government will most likely stay put. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune can most likely also rely on the support of many of the Islamist member of parliament.

Even though Islamist parties have increased their share of seats and are considered the election’s winners, they are not likely to significantly alter the status quo. With somewhat over 110 seats, the Islamist parties are well represented, but lack the mandate to take charge. The FLN and RND coalition remains ahead by quite a margin, certainly considering their ties with the elected independent members of parliament. The government also remains backed by the military, who are widely considered to pull the strings within Algeria’s politics. Given all of this, the election result itself will not have much impact on the already by Tebboune promised political and economic reforms.

Low voter turnout puts strain on legitimacy
The boycott of the vote by the protesting Hirak movement, and the traditional, mainly left-leaning, opposition parties, has had an significant impact. The voter turnout was estimated at 30.2% just after the vote, by the official election authorities. This would already be the lowest in at least 20 years for legislative elections. To compare, voter turnout was 43.13% and 35.7% during the 2012 and 2017 elections. However, the Algerian National Independent Election Authority (ANIE) has put the voter turnout even lower, at merely 23.0%. This was published by the Algerian Press Service and would be even lower than the 23.1% voter turnout at the December 2020 Constitutional referendum.

The low voter turnout goes against the government’s aim to call early elections, with which it hoped to boost its legitimacy. Before the elections already, President Tebboune said that he would not interested in the voter turnout percentage, but only in the election result. According to him, it mattered only who were elected into the parliament. However, considering the low voter turnout, similar statements do not sit well with all. Tebboune’s statement that the elections will pave the way for a “new Algeria” and election authority head Mohomad Chorfi’s that “the dynamic of change launched by the protests have been strengthened”, should be read with a critical note in mind.

Protesters part of the Hirak movement and other boycotting the election will be glad to see such a low voter turnout. However, their boycott will be of little impact if they fail to turn their support into political change. Without a clear leader, the ongoing Hirak protests have yet to lead to significant political reforms. Unwilling to compromise, protesters want to see all of the established political elite gone. During this election they were backed by the Worker’s Party (PT) and Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD). The other party to boycott the election, the Front of Socialist Forces (FFS), distanced themselves more from Hirak’s approach.

Few irregularities amid government crackdown
Fearing that the weekly Hirak rallies in Algiers would take place on election day too, the government shut down the city on June 11. Opposition leader Karim Tabbou, independent journalist Khaled Drareni and the director of a reformist radio station, Ihsane El Kadi, among others, were also detained on June 10. This illustrates the tense climate. The government was unwilling to let many irregularities take place on election day itself. There were recorded incidents of arrests and ransacking of ballot boxes on election day, but overall protesters were prevented from disturbing the elections by heavy deployment of police forces. The elections were not marked by riots or irregularities, but solely by abstention.


Presidential elections

2019 presidential elections
The 2019 presidential elections were initially scheduled to take place on April 18, but large-scale protests erupted after Bouteflika officially announced he would run for his fifth term. When Bouteflika stepped down and Abdelkader Bensalah was installed as interim President, he initially postponed the elections to June 4, but later to December 12. The protests of the Hirak movement had been taking place for almost a year when the elections finally took place. The election was mainly characterized by the low turnout, as a result of the widespread boycott of the vote by the Hirak movement and other opposition forces.

Election results

Candidate

Party

Votes

Percentage

Abdelmadjid Tebboune

Independent

4,947,523

58.13

Abdelkader Bengrina

El Binaa

1,477,836

17.37

Ali Benflis

Talaie El Houriyate

897,831

10.55

Azzedine Mihoubi

Democratic National Rally

619,225

7.28

Abdelaziz Belaïd

Future Front

568,000

6.67

Total

8,510,415

100.00

 

Results show that former prime minister and minister of housing, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, gained far more votes than his opponents, with a percentage of 58.13%. He gained a majority of the votes, making a second round unnecessary. With 17.37% of the votes Abdelkader Bengrina, former minister of tourism, of the Islamist El Binaa party, became second and former head of government, Ali Benfis of the Talaie El Houriyate, became third with 10.55% of the votes. Tebboune promised to fight for a “new Algeria” and “listen to the protesters of the Hirak movement (and) take care of their concerns”. His elections only sparked a new wave of protesters though, with some claiming that he would only be worse than Bouteflika. 

Low voter turnout
Although Tebboune won the vote decisively, there are several factors that put a strain on the legitimacy of his election as president. Voter turnout was measured by government officials at 39.88%, although one outside observer claimed it was in fact about 20%. Nonetheless, with just below 40% of eligible voters casting their ballots, this was the lowest turnout for a presidential election since Algeria’s independence in 1962. To illustrate, in 2014 the turnout was estimated at nearly 52%. Meanwhile, 12.76% of the total votes were cast as blank or declared unvalid. These are more votes than three out of five candidates. In the weeks of campaigning many protests erupted, leading to several incidents. Also on election day, the estimated 10.000 protesters which took to the streets when polls opened, caused irregularities. No international observers were actually allowed to enter the country and monitor the vote.

Election boycot
The election boycott has everything to do with the fact that all of the five candidates have links with the ruling elite and previous governments under Bouteflika. As all of the candidates were considered to be part of the political establishment. The lack of any candidates who represent the interests of those in the country who desire actual change explains why the vote was boycotted by the Hirak movement and other opposition forces, such as the Forces of the Democratic Alternative (FDA) alliance and the Justice and Development Front. Before the elections protesters continued to take to the streets, demanding a complete overhaul and radical change of the current system. Protesters declared that the elections were a designation as all of the candidates were put forward by the military-backed regime.

Political parties

Social Democratic Parties

Logo of Front of Socialist Forces

Front of Socialist Forces (FFS)

Party Leader: Youcef Aouchiche

http://www.ffs.dz/

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Other Parties

Logo of The National Liberation Front

The National Liberation Front (FLN)

Party Leader: Mohamed Djemai

Number of seats: 105

http://www.pfln.dz/

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Logo of Movement of Society for Peace

Movement of Society for Peace (MSP)

Party Leader: Abderrazak Makri

Number of seats: 64

http://hmsalgeria.net/fr/

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Logo of National Rally for Democracy

National Rally for Democracy (RND)

Party Leader: Tayeb Zitouni

Number of seats: 57

https://www.rnd.dz/

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Logo of Future Front

Future Front

Party Leader: Abdelaziz Belaïd

Number of seats: 48

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Logo of Justice and Development Front

Justice and Development Front (FJD)

Party Leader: Abdallah Djaballah

Number of seats: 2

https://www.facebook.com/ElAdalaFr

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Logo of Workers' Party

Workers' Party (PT)

Party Leader: Louisa Hanoune

https://www.pst-algerie.org/

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Biographies

Image of Abdelmadjid Tebboune

Abdelmadjid Tebboune

President

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Image of Abdelaziz Djerad

Abdelaziz Djerad

Prime Minister

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Image of Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Former President

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Image of Hocine Aït-Ahmed

Hocine Aït-Ahmed

Historical leader of the Front of Socialist Forces

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Mohamed Djemai

Head of Algeria's ruling National Liberation Front

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Tayeb Zitouni

Secretary General of the Democratic National Rally

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Youcef Aouchiche

First National Secretary of the Front of Socialist Forces

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Sources

Adam Carr's Homepage: People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria
Al-Arabiya
Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera: 4 May 207; Algeria votes amid expected low turnout
Al Jazeera: 5 May; Algeria ruling coalition wins parliamentary elections
Al-Bab Country briefing Algeria
Arab Decision: Political Parties Algeria
BBC Country profile: Algeria
BBC News: 13 July 2001; Algeria opposes UN Western Sahara plan
BBC News: 9 April 2004; Algeria's presidential challengers
BBC News : 5 May 2017: Algeria election
CIA: World Fact Book Algeria
CIDCM: Minorities at Risk; Berbers in Algeria
Country studies, Algeria
Dayan
Election Guide
Election Guide Encyclopaedia Britannica: Foreign relations of Algeria
European Commission: Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Algeria, National Indicative Programme 2005-2006
European Commission: EU’s Relations with Algeria
Freedomhouse: Country report Algeria 2005

Freedomhouse: Country report Algeria 2006
Global Security - Algerian National Liberation
Human Rights Watch: Algeria
Interior Ministry Algeria
IPU
Keesings
Magharebia
Medea: ALGERIA, Elections and Parliament National People’s Assembly
Middle East Eye
Presidential Website Algeria
Reporters Without Borders
Transparency International: Country report Algeria
Transparency International
TRT World: The true winner of Algeria's elections is the status quo
United Nations: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
United Nations Development Program: Programma on Governance in the Arab region, Civil Society in Algeria
United Nations Development Program: Programma on Governance in the Arab region, Fighting 
Corruption in Algeria
VOA News
Washington Post: 24 February 2011; Algeria's state of emergency is officially lifted
Wikipedia: 2010–2011 Algerian protests
Wikipedia: Elections in Algeria
Wikipedia: Foreign relations of Algeria
Wikipedia: Legislative elections
Wikipedia: Politics of Algeria
Worker’s Party