Terror as Algeria elects “president for life”

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of the long-ruling National Liberation Front (NLF) won 90.24% of the vote to secure his third mandate on April 9, in elections marred by terror attacks despite tight security throughout the country. A bomb exploded at a polling station in Imeghenine, near Boumerdes, and a police officer was killed by a roadside bomb in Tebessa. At least nine polling stations in eastern Algeria were vandalized and ballot boxes set on fire, while in Bouira, in upper Kabylie, streets were reportedly blocked to prevent ballots from being delivered to polling stations.

Candidates from the Workers’ Party (PT), National Algerian Front (FNA) and other small parties each failed to garner even 5%. Turnout was estimated at 64.76% in Algiers, 30.75% in Tizi Ouzou and 29.36% in Bejaia. But the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), an opposition party which had called for a boycott of the elections, issued a statement saying that the true turnout level did not exceed 18%. The FFS alleged: “The poll was marred by massive, widespread and open fraud. Local council leaders were amazed to discover that on the day of the elections, thousands of names were suddenly added to the electoral lists in their communes. In the capital, as in many other cities, our activists saw buses packed with people who had come to vote at pre-selected stations where they were not registered to vote. In some regions, soldiers openly cast several votes in numerous communes [municipalities].”

The Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) said that “the irregularities were massive and numerous and occurred from North to South and from East to West, indicating that a concerted fraud strategy was in place at central level.” (Maghraebia, April 10; Gulf News, UAE, April 7)

Many observers fear Bouteflika has been elected “president for life.” Article 74 of Algeria’s 1996 constitution set two five-year terms as the limit on the mandate of a given president. On Nov. 12, 2008, however, the parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve several constitutional amendments, the most important of which removed the stipulations of Article 74. This far-reaching amendment opened the way for President Bouteflika to run for a third successive term—despite his poor health and controversial performance. Most Algerians were convinced that, as in Tunisia or Egypt, the result of the election was a foregone conclusion. (MERIP, April 1)

See our last post on Algeria and the Maghreb.

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