No alterations to status quo expected after Algerian vote marked by abstention

Thu 17 Jun 2021

No alterations to status quo expected after Algerian vote marked by abstention

On June 12, Algerians headed to the polls for the legislative elections. However, even more Algerians abstained from voting in an election that will mean little change for the current political status quo. The country’s ruling parties, the National Liberation Front (FLN) and Democratic National Rally (RND), both lost significant portions of their seats. However, they will be able to maintain most of their influence through newly elected allied independent members of parliament. Islamist parties increased their share of seats, but not enough to drastically alter the political arena. By force, the government made sure few irregularities could occur.

Islamist forces win to the detriment of established parties

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 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 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. 78 seats are won by independents.

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. Overall, Islamist parties have increased their number of seats significantly.

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 to run their campaign. 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 ruling 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.

Few irregularities amid government crackdown

Fearing that the weekly Hirak rallies in Algiers would take place on election day too, the government, read military, 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 and crackdown preceding the vote. Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights head Said Salhi said that “the repressive atmosphere and the restrictions placed on human rights and freedoms mean these elections have no democratic value”.

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. However, even after the vote the government sought to remain in control. On June 13 it also cancelled the operating license of France 24 over the “clear and repeated hostility towards our country and its institutions”. There is also some unclarity on the exact voter turnout.

Low voter turnout puts strain on legitimacy

What is clear, is that the boycott of 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 23.0%. This 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 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.

Image: Wikimedia (President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 2020)

Sources: AfricaNews, Aljazeera1, Aljazeera2, Aljazeera3, Aljazeera4, Aps, BBC, DzAirDaily, France24, ObservAlgerie, Reuters