Opposition parties in Algeria have been reprimanded by state authorities for putting up posters showing the faceless portraits of female candidates for May’s legislative election.
Election monitoring officials ordered the faces of the candidates to be shown within the next 48 hours or face disqualification from the ballot.
“They must show their faces,” Abdel-Wahab Derbal, the president of the body in charge of surveillance of the elections told reporters earlier this week.
However leaders of several Islamist parties criticised Derbal’s decision as being unfair and unconstitutional.
“Our candidates are politicians not fashion models,” leader of the National Algerian Front (FNA) party, Moussa Touati, told the local media. “I will not tell my candidates to show their faces on the posters or flyers.”
Naima Salhi, another political leader who has also allowed posters to show the faceless female candidates from her party explained that “authorities should respect Algeria’s religious traditions”.
The women have appeared faceless with only their name and profession shown whilst others have both their face and family name removed from the posters. The majority of the reported cases have been registered in rural areas where religious conservatism is more prevalent than in the capital Algiers and other major cities.
The poster debate has been aggravated on social media with conservatives arguing the position that Islam forbids showing women’s faces in public and others mocking the “ghost women” candidates.
Algerian electoral law states that each list of candidates must include a minimum of 15 per cent female participation with the aims of further boosting female presence in politics.
The Collective for Rights and Dignity of Algerian Women said in a statement:
How can these candidates reach out to their voters without being visible? One cannot tolerate such a drift that undermines the dignity of Algerian women.
The elections are currently dominated by the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) and its allies which hold a majority in both chambers of parliament. Opposition parties in Algeria are weak and divided over how to challenge a system controlled by a leftist old guard that dates back to Algeria’s independence in 1962.
The move by several Islamist parties to join forces for greater influence has caused concern amongst some Algerians who remember the 1992 election when the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was set to win before the army stepped in and cancelled the elections triggering the deadly decade-long war.