A recently announced snap election paves the way for a free and fair democracy in Algeria
— 3 minute read — By Alex Kurtis
This 12th June may be the first time in decades where the Algerian people can participate in an election free from suspicions of fraud and interference. Earlier this month, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune triggered snap elections with aim to entirely overhaul the Algerian National Assembly. This comes after the former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was ushered into resignation after mass protests throughout the country.
Bouteflika led Algeria for 20 years, a tenure usually expected of dictatorships or monarchy, though it has always been maintained that Bouteflika’s occupation of the presidency was wholly democratic. Major concerns were raised, however, over the president’s health; he suffered a dangerous stroke in 2013 and has made very few public appearances since, leading many to speculate on the real inner workings of the Algerian government.
In 2019, six years after his stroke and aged 82, Bouteflika announced he would be running for a fifth consecutive term. Consequently, the Algerian people flocked to the streets in protest over his campaign; the Hirak movement fervently demonstrated on a weekly basis up until the pandemic. During the demonstrations, prominent figures in the Hirak were jailed under such questionable charges as ‘harming national unity’. Although some have since been freed, there have been many accusations that the government’s plans to change have been purely cosmetic.
Even after the resignation of Bouteflika and hope of a new democracy, fears grew that the pandemic was now being utilised to detain and silence Hirak protestors, whether it be peacefully in the street or even online. President Tebboune’s calls for an early election thus signals immense progress for the pro-democracy Hirak and a step towards a more transparent governing system.
It subsequently may not be surprising that Bouteflika’s previous elections were plagued with accusations of fraud and financial scandal.
His initial election in 1999 came only at the withdrawal of all other candidates after suspicions of electoral fraud by the Algerian military. The 2004 election saw boycotts by a large majority of the indigenous Kabyle population. 2009 saw the revision of the Algerian Constitution to allow Bouteflika to run for a third term. The 2014 election was boycotted by The Islamist Movement of Society for Peace and Barakat; once again fraud was claimed by his opponents, yet nothing ever materialised from these claims. Bouteflika won his fourth term, despite only appearing in his campaign publicly twice and having to vote from a wheelchair due to his ailing health.
This upcoming June election can thus be viewed as critical to changing the regime and practice that the Algerian government has seen over the last 20 years. The illusions of democracy may now have the potential to transcend into the real thing; for many voters this will be the first time they have ever voted in an election they feel is fair.