Algerians were called to the polls on June 12 to form a new parliament that paves the way for a “new Algeria”, two years after then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to resign. But the elections registered a low turnout rate amid calls from the opposition and activists to boycott the elections, in response to the crackdown on weekly marches and new rules vetoing demonstrations.
Parliamentary elections in Algeria saw little turnout amid boycott by the opposition and crackdown on a well-known protest movement.
Towards the end of the day, with four hours left until the polls closed, the country’s electoral authority indicated that less than 14.5% of the 24 million people summoned had cast their vote. The final turnout figure was not available immediately after the polls closed at 8 p.m. local time.
Some regions – particularly in Kabylie, an opposition stronghold east of the Algerian capital – had an electoral turnout of less than 1%. Some polling stations were vandalized and fights were recorded between residents and the police in some towns in the region.
This situation was experienced during an electoral process from which the government of the current president Abdelmadjid Tebboune hoped to consolidate the path towards a “new Algeria”, two years after the massive demonstrations forced the then head of state, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to resign after two decades in office.
“This election is a new step to build a new Algeria (…) These elections are one more stage on the path of change and the construction of a new Algeria,” with sovereignty for the people, Tebboune said after casting his vote.
The opposition called for a boycott of the parliamentary elections, after considering them a “farce”
As stipulated by the new president, the elections were supposed to exemplify Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “new Algeria,” with an emphasis on young candidates and those outside the political elite.
Algerians were called to vote in favor of a new Parliament, with a majority of rookie independent candidates running under new rules designed to erase political corruption. A slew of candidates, more than 20,000, ran for the 407-seat parliament, once dominated by a bipartisan alliance that is seen as unlikely to maintain its grip on the legislature.
However, the tension increased when activists and opposition parties boycotted the elections and called on citizens to do the same.
“I respect the position of those who decided to boycott the elections, but they do not have the right to forcefully impose their point of view on others,” explained the current president.
This Saturday’s elections came after the 2019 presidential elections and a referendum on an amended Constitution last year, but many Algerians still believe that real power in the country is wielded by the army and security forces.
The Hirak protest movement, which pressured Bouteflika to leave the presidency, assures that the old ruling elite must be overthrown and the military institution prevented from interfering in politics, which is why it considers any of these elections a “farce”.
“The elections in Algeria have always shown that they are not the solution. The solution is in the democratic transition. It also lies in a dialogue around a table to resolve the crisis, ”said activist Sofiane Haddadji.
The repression that surrounded the elections
The opposition’s call for a boycott came amid a crackdown on the Hirak movement’s weekly marches, which were virtually banned under the new rules for demonstrations.
The protests against Bouteflika amounted to Algeria’s biggest political crisis in decades and the authorities are still struggling to quell the protest movement.
Authorities began cracking down on the Hirak movement weeks ago with dozens of arrests and a rule forcing the organizers of the marches with no known leaders to declare and present them. Three prominent figures arrested Thursday, including two journalists – including press freedom defender Khaled Draren – were released early Saturday before the election process.
“The elections will not give legitimacy to the regime, and repression and arrests will not stop the peaceful revolution of the people,” said Samir Belarbi, a prominent figure in the Hirak movement.
Still, parties that gain a strong position in parliament are expected to be part of the next Tebboune government, which faces an impending economic crisis.
The Constitutional Council announced on Saturday that it would be 15 days before the results of the voting are known due to the number of candidates and the need to ensure that the fraud that marked past elections is avoided.
With Reuters and AP