Algeria: Lowest Voter Turnout Amid Bungled Transition

Only 30% of the population has participated in the latest election.

Algeria held its parliamentary election with 30% of the population casting their ballot. Indeed, it’s the lowest voter turnout in 20 years. Against this backdrop, Algerians are filling the streets, calling for an end to the ruling regime.

Since 2019, the country has been heading toward a bungled transition. The regime relies on elections and referendums to reassert its “fragile legitimacy”. Ever since Abdelmadjid Tebboune held power, he forced his road map on the Algerians.

The government and the security apparatus focus on aborting the revolution and enforcing the old ruling measures of Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Will the election bring any change to the political sphere?
The answer is no. Pragmatically speaking, with the absence of genuine reconciliation between the ruling elite and the protesters, it’s unlikely that a democratic transition will take place. The protesters on the one hand, and Tebboune and the army on the other, are engaged in a zero-sum game, where concessions from the government side to the opposition mean restructuring the entire political and economic spheres. Indeed, it’s not a preferred option for both: government and the army.

Algerians demonstrate in Algiers, one with a plaque reading “Square of Feb.22, 2019, the Smiling Revolution” to mark the second anniversary of the Hirak movement, Feb. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Anis Belghoul)

With regard to the protesters, they won’t accept any compromises, unless the army is pushed away from politics. They see the elections before that as a charade.

“The Hirak protest movement has revealed flaws in Algeria’s ruling system, which lacks the tools to reinvent itself or negotiate a new social contract with the people,” Amel Boukeber, Fellow in the Middle East and North Africa program at European Council for Foreign affairs writes.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. (AFP)

Now with the economy suffering, the public services being cut off, and the government failing to placate the opposition, the parliamentary election will bring the same outcome. Add to this, as long as the left fails to bring an alternative road map, the democratic transition remains unlikely. Slogans of democracy and social justice are broad concepts that should be narrowed down.

“The Hirak has created a political culture of popular empowerment, but it still has to agree on a road map for a political transition,” Boukeber added. While it is agreed upon that the Hirak succeeded to galvanize the citizens against the regime, the movement is divided.

Though Islamists and secularists had put their ideological differences aside, they still have conflicting goals. The slogan “Ni état islamiste, ni état militaire” (neither an Islamic state nor a military state) is becoming more present. The Hirak aims to trivialize these ideological differences, yet they are impediments to a successful democratic transition.

“Behind every rise of fascism is a failed revolution,” said the Frankfurt School thinker Walter Benjamin.

Slavoj Žižek, a Slovenian philosopher, said: “What is ultimately needed is a new conception of the left — a new kind of progressive platform — that does not rely on old tropes.”

The issue today is not whether they can put their differences aside. Instead, it is how they can accept each other and adopt a road map that satisfies the Islamic and secular camps. This is in addition to facing the government crackdown. Hence, the democratic transition seems a long way off.



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