On Saturday, Algerians head to the polling stations in the context of early legislative elections rejected by the movement and part of the opposition against the backdrop of increasing repression.
The participation rate is the main bet after the two previous elections (the presidential vote in 2019 and the constitutional referendum in 2020) witnessed an unprecedented abstention from voting of 60% and 76%, respectively.
Polling stations will open from 8:00 local time (7:00 GMT) to 19:00 (18:00 GMT), in the first legislative elections since the unprecedented peaceful popular protest movement began on February 22, 2019, to reject the candidacy of former President Abdel Aziz. Bouteflika for a fifth term.
The latter was forced to resign after two months, after spending 20 years in power.
Official results are not expected until Sunday.
At the conclusion of an electoral campaign that the public was absent due to the epidemic, the pro-government parties and the official media called for “vigorous participation in these crucial elections for the sake of the stability of the country,” while the movement, which calls for a radical change in the system of government established since independence in 1962, denounced in advance these elections.
The regime is preparing to accommodate a possible strong boycott, hoping at the same time for a participation rate of between 40% and 50%.
The authority is determined to implement the electoral “road map” that it set, ignoring the demands of the street (the rule of law, democratic transition, and an independent judiciary).
About 24 million voters were called to choose 407 new deputies in the National People’s Assembly (the lower house of parliament) for a five-year term.
They must choose from nearly 1,500 lists – more than half of which are “independent” – more than 13,000 candidates.
This is the first time that this large number of independents have come forward against candidates supported by political parties that have largely lost credibility, and have been held responsible for the political, economic, and social crises that Algeria has been going through for nearly 30 months.
These new candidates, with ambiguous affiliations, can establish themselves as a new force within the next council, with the approval of the authority, which encouraged young people to run for office and provided them with a helping hand.
This comes as the secular and leftist opposition, whose popularity has declined, called for a boycott or to leave the freedom of its members to vote or not.
On the other hand, the licensed Islamic parties decided to participate in the polls in order to “contribute to the estrangement and the desired change.”
Abdul-Razzaq Makri, head of the Society for Peace Movement, the largest Islamist party and close to the Muslim Brotherhood, said he was “ready to rule” in the event of victory.
The International Crisis Group thinks, “In a possible scenario, the political forces emanating from these elections may meet to form a coalition aimed at the continuation of the regime.”
With the election deadline approaching, Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Said Chanegriha warned against “any scheme or action aimed at disrupting the course” of the electoral process.
The government, the civilian front of the military establishment, sought to break the movement.
It banned all rallies and increased the number of arrests and prosecutions against political opponents, activists in the movement, independent journalists, and lawyers.
The government says that it responded to the main demands of the “original movement” in a “record time”, and there is no longer any legitimacy for the activists of the peaceful movement, accusing them of being in the service of “foreign parties” hostile to Algeria.
At least 222 prisoners of conscience are behind bars in Algeria because of their activism in the movement or the defense of individual liberties, according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees.
On the other side of the Mediterranean in France, where a large Algerian community resides, Algerians see the system as “capable of everything” to ensure its continuity.
“The future in Algeria is a prison,” said Rahim, a twenty-four-year-old in Marseille in southern France.
Human Rights Watch condemned a “terrifying escalation of repression,” considering that “the vague promises of openness and dialogue to President Abdelmadjid Tebboune are being shattered in front of the reality of repression.