Low interest and low turnout in Algeria's local elections

The immobility of the system drives abstention among Algerian society
Argelia elecciones

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Polling stations closed this Saturday in Algeria after twelve hours of voting to elect the new Provincial and Municipal Councils, in a day marked once again by disinterest and low turnout despite the government's efforts to reverse the abstentionist trend and sell the elections as part of a reform process.

Three hours before the polls closed, which were extended by one hour, the turnout rate stood at 24.27% for the municipal elections and 23.30% for the provincial elections, according to data provided by the president of the Independent Electoral Commission for Elections (ANIE), Mohamed Charfi.

These figures predict a similar abstention rate to the last presidential and legislative elections, where abstention was around 70 percent.

Against this backdrop, on an unseasonably cold day, the President of the Republic went with his family to vote early in the morning at the Ahmed Aroua polling station in the west of Algiers, to set an example and try to mobilise an apathetic electorate, tired of the lack of reforms and exhausted by the persistent economic crisis that the country has suffered since the abrupt fall in oil and gas prices in 2014.

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"I believe that the turnout will be higher during the municipal elections because it matters directly to the citizen. Today we have come to the building of legitimate institutions in their own sense, the result: today nobody can complain about fraud or say that the municipal elections were fraudulent," he said. 

Calls for boycott

Tabboune also referred to calls for a boycott by some opposition parties, such as the National Democratic Rally (RND), and stressed that there is "respect for the opposition. The main thing is not to fall into violence. The political opposition is authorised", he stressed.

He also referred to the situation in the mountainous region of Kabylia, which has a Berber majority and where opposition to the military regime is strongest and most belligerent.

In his opinion, it only represents "a minority". "We are with the majority, we have nothing to do with those who go against the tide. In no country in the world is there unanimity, everyone has their own ideas. The important thing is that Algeria continues to move towards economic stability and true democracy.

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The first to vote at the polling station this morning was Foreign Minister Ramtan Lamamra, who said that "this is an important day in the history of our institutions and our political life", just minutes after the polling stations opened under tight police control.

Disinterest among young people

According to official figures, some 23.7 million Algerians are called to the polls this Saturday to choose from among the 1,158 lists that have been submitted to the Provincial People's Assemblies, 877 of them by the 48 authorised political parties and 281 by independents.

In order to guarantee the security and smooth running of the consultation, nearly 800,000 supervisors were deployed in 61,696 polling stations and 13,326 polling centres, at a cost of 55 million euros.

This effort was not reflected in the population, especially among young people, the vast majority of whom avoided the polling stations and preferred to take advantage of the holiday in parks, cafés and shopping centres.

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After midday, the turnout grew, driven by the older generations and groups of civil servants and other public employees.

Disillusionment and Hirak

The government presents the elections as the last step in completing the process of building state institutions after the controversial resignation in 2019 of long-serving president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, forced by mass protests and manoeuvres by a large part of the army, the institution that has dominated the country since independence from France in 1962.

The repression of the aforementioned popular protest movement, known as "Hirak", by the current government, multiplied the disinterest of the population, which for years has been suffering from an acute economic and social crisis that, among other effects, has fuelled irregular migration to Europe.

Today, Algerians are the most numerous nationality among those who venture across the Mediterranean on precarious rafts chartered by local mafias on their way to Spain.

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This lack of interest, according to local analysts, has been contributed to by the campaign, in which the candidates have put aside local issues to focus on the ongoing regional conflict with Morocco, with which the Algerian regime broke off diplomatic relations last August.

It is a conflict that flared up a month ago after three Algerian civilians were killed in a Moroccan bombing of a convoy of trucks in the liberated areas of Western Sahara.