Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian president who has already been in power for 15 years, won a fourth term in the April presidential elections. The 77-years old politician didn’t campaign for himself due to his feeble health, especially fragile after a stroke last year, therefore he made few public appearances and his conditions raised many doubts about his concrete ability to lead the country for the next years. However, despite his situation he managed to take over 80% of the vote similarly to the past elections: in 2009 he took 90% of the vote and in 2004 the 85%[1]

The so-called key rival, Ali Benflis, came second with 12.18% of the vote, but there were other four candidates competing in the presidential race: Moussa Touati, Louisa Hanoune and Ali Fawzi Rebaine. They had already participated in previous presidential elections, excepting for Belaid, who was running for the first time. 

Ali Benflis is a former prime minister with a degree in law born on September 8, 1944; in 1999 he supported Bouteflika’s campaign but in 2004 he ran against him and took only 6.4%[2] of the vote. His comment about the first electoral defeat is clear: « Back in 2004, I was not competing on equal footing. I was not humiliated at all in 2004 after getting six percent of [the] polls, simply because the winner was massive fraud and the loser was democracy. But, I would like to point out that even though I was not present in media in the last few years, I was still active in politics. I toured the country and met with Algerians from all over. The dire need [for] change is what motivated me the most to come back for these elections. Algeria cannot stand an obsolete government; it needs to move towards a peaceful and organised political change »[3]

Louisa Hanoune, head of the leftist Workers Party and founder of an association in favor of equal rights between the sexes was the only woman in race and already member of parliament; she had some problems with justice in 1980s when she collaborated with a clandestine socialist workers’ group.  

Moussa Touati, the president of the Algerian National Front, is a former soldier trained in Syria and Libya, in his life he headed a committee created to help and protect children whose parents were killed in the war of independence and worked for the customs authority.

Ali Fawzi Rebaine, 59-year-old, helped set up a national anti-torture panel in 1988 and is the co-founder of the first Algerian human rights group. Accused of threatening state security for being a member of an illegal association he was arrested and sentenced to 13 years of prison, but he was released only two years ago thanks to a presidential pardon. 

The youngest of the six candidates is Abdelaziz Belaid, the 50-year-old with a PhD in medicine and a degree in law. Born in the same town of Ali Benflis, the key challenger, he was a member of the National Liberal Front since he was 23 but in 2012 he quitted the ruling party for heading the opposition party named El-Moustakbel Front[4].

 

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The provisional results offered by the Ministry of Interior are clear: Bouteflika drastically defeated his opponents, in particular Ali Benflis who gained a not-so-close second position. After polls closed he had already criticized the election defining it a “fraud on a massive scale”[5].

Young people, frustrated over joblessness, housing shortages and few economic opportunities showed their disappointment for the re-election of the politician, “I have never voted here. The result is always known in advance” declared Walid, a 31-year-old shopkeeper was clear in denouncing frauds. “Bouteflika might have won the election, but he will not win the heart of Algerians” said Amira, a 21-year-old political science student who did not expected free and fair elections as well. 

It is important to stress that there are different positions within the civil society: many unhappy young people are seeking for a change or for ways to leave the country in order to find better opportunities abroad,  in contrast with the older generation that still remember the instability faced during the war of independence from France and the civil war with the Islamists during the 1990s; as Abdelaziz Bouteflika brought stability in that decisive historical moment these middle-aged people are keen on voting him again.“Look, you need peace in a country […] Bouteflika brought peace, he built this country. It’s something I am grateful for” said Rachid, a middle-aged waiter[6].  

The North African oil-exporting state is fundamental for Western governments, it is an important actor for granting stability within the region as it didn’t face the turmoil that swept the neighboring Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Nowadays, after the bloody decade of civil war, Islamists don’t play a principal role in the country where the so-called “the Power” or “le Pouvoir” composed by FLN leaders, business magnates and army generals is believed to manage politics behind the scenes. Many Algerians consider them as guardians of stability that wouldn’t permit an extremist deviation and their role has been considered positively also by Europe and United States, determining the Western alliance with Mr Bouteflika in the campaign against Islamist militants in the Maghreb; furthermore with the Ukraine’s crisis that threats Russian gas supplies, the role of the country in exporting oil and gas to Europe increased dramatically[7]

 The re-election of Abdelaziz Bouteflika was not unexpected, however it would be important paying attention to future evolutions within the country: the economic situation, the lack of job opportunities and public spending cuts caused internal tensions and street protests; furthermore even if the candidacy of the former president has been supported by “Le Pouvoir” there have been divisions and tensions between tthe Départment du Reseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS) headed by the générale Mediène Mohamed and the army, that is the strongest supporter of Abdelaziz Bouteflica between the two. 

Oil and gas revenues subsidized the governmental power giving the possibility to sustain the network of supporters and to co-opt part of the opponents, but it is an untenable situation in the long term in a country where there is a growing activism within the civil society. Launched only last month on March 1, the movement named Barakat (which means “enough” in Algeria’s Arabic dialect) has experienced an increase in its Internet presence, even though it has to attract more than a few thousand people. Its leaders explained that the movement is expected to give significant results in the long period and it worries “le Pouvoir” which consider it a threat to stability, as demonstrates the punishment of a newspaper that hosted a Barakat press conference through the withdrawal of the government advertisings. In Algeria the memory of the civil war is still strong and the violent revolutions which took place across the region made the authorities cautious about civil society’s initiatives, with the first manifestations strongly repressed by the government. Therefore in order to avoid misunderstandings it has been decided to organize only sit-in initiatives and to recruit participants according to their pacific attitude. Barakat is composed by different kinds of people from journalists to advocates but, in particular, it is the expression of young activists that aim to spread their claims in order to change the actual situation in Algeria; they want to say that is enough, that they refuse joblessness, corruption and lack of opportunities[8].

The fragility of the stability assured by the re-election mixed to the growing tensions and protests demanding for transparency and legality could lead to important changes in the future and it will be significant also for the West, whose reliance on the country’s export role is based primarily on the current status quo. 

 

ALTHEA CENCIARELLI

Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)

 

 


[1] Patrich Markey & Lamine Chikhi, Algeria’s Bouteflika wins re-election with 81.5 percent: official results, “Reuters”, April 2014.

[2] Presidential candidates: Six presidential hopefuls compete for the April 17 vote amid calls to boycott the polls, “Al Jazeera”, March 2014.

[3] Farah Souames,  Q&A: Ali Benflis aims for comeback in Algeria, “Al Jazeera”, April 2014.

[4] Presidential candidates: Six presidential hopefuls compete for the April 17 vote amid calls to boycott the polls, “Al Jazeera”, March 2014

[5] Bouteflika wins 4th term as Algerian president, “Al Arabiya News”, April 2014

[6] N.K., Quelle surprise, “The Economist”, April 2014

[7] Patrich Markey & Lamine Chikhi, Algeria’s Bouteflika wins re-election with 81.5 percent: official results, “Reuters”, April 2014

[8] Julia Dumont, Bouteflika réélu, Barakat poursuit la résistance en Algérie, “Géopolis” in FranceTV, May 2014