Will there be anything new in the Algerian legislative election scheduled for next month? This is the question about which the Algerian cannot agree. Some believe that the election will be different because we do not know in advance who will win, unlike the previous election.
Those who stood in that election agree. They made up 1,500 electoral lists, with more or less equal numbers of party lists and independents. The latter in particular who are running in the next election see an opportunity to reach parliament that will not be repeated in this era of negligence through which Algeria is passing. They want to seize the opportunity while it is there, with the old parties in turmoil, just like the political system as a whole. Moreover, the law now prevents former members of parliament from running for a third term.
Many candidates are from the educated middle class, as they have lost a lot in terms of their economic and social status. They include journalists and university professors, who want to make up for their lost status with positions in parliament. It is clear that television and, to a lesser extent, radio, has a role in producing a political elite, after the parties have failed to do so. Television elites have been involved in the legislature at various stages in Algeria’s past, with some benefiting from the party, fame and reputation to get close to a regime in a legal crisis and trying to renew its support base.
As usual, even educated candidates believe what the government claims. They sell illusions to citizens through the media and universities, and have done for years. The journalists and professors seem to be content with the shallow details of the electoral process, as they have covered and dealt with it professionally and so do not fall victim to the propaganda.
They see no need to delve deeper into the political process where corruption is evident. Nor do they uncover the tribal networks and interests that determine voting intentions and outcomes, especially when a legislative election is a stimulus for such pre-national affiliations in country areas, and even in the suburbs of major cities. This in part explains the competition to stand as candidates in the capital and other cities, not only because of the larger number of parliamentary seats up for grabs, but also because of the naive belief that being well known on television or in a university is enough to attract votes and win. Moreover, families have multiple members standing as candidates, so that seats can be passed on to the next generation when the sitting member is prevented from running again after two terms in office.
There are many women candidates, benefitting from the election law, and running in the country areas and the cities. Most are university-educated and middle class women, including media professionals, lawyers, engineers and doctors. Their professions grant them status and legitimacy as candidates. Increasingly, more women candidates are not wearing the hijab.
However, they may pay the price of the new election law, which is based on an open list system. This means the voter choses the candidate they want from the list, unlike the old quota system, through which women benefited. The new system reduces women’s chances of being elected, at a time when some conservative and patriarchal factions are campaigning aggressively against them. This suggests that the next parliament will be extremely male-orientated.
There are parties that the political establishment would prefer not to be over-represented in parliament to a degree that the current balance is disturbed. The parties boycotting the election have understood this. This also presents an opportunity for individual candidates to win with relatively few votes in their favour. In fact, the lacklustre election campaign and poor quality of the rhetoric suggest that the turnout will be low, with voters unable to see any real solutions emerging for the problems that Algeria is facing. These problems require open elections as part of a broader political consensus that is not content with electoral mechanisms lacking spirit and proposed as magical solutions to the establishment’s long-standing crises.
The election comes at a time when the pressure on citizens is increasing, and the media and political spheres appear to be closed shops. There is very little motivation to go to the polling stations on 12 June, so will there really be anything new coming out of the legislative election next month?
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 23 May 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.