FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Algerian Elections

by

‘My generation has reached its end. We did things for the country. Henceforward, the country is in your hands, you the young. Take care of it’.

– Abdelaziz Bouteflika, May 2012

Johannesburg, South Africa.

As Algerians participate in the fourth presidential election since incumbent president Abdelaziz Bouteflika ascended to the helm in 1999, questions around the consequences of the vote for the country’s military-civil relations are preeminent. The outcomes of these will greatly shape the short and medium term futures of Africa’s largest LNG producer and second largest oil exporter.

Contested by six candidates, the result of the election is not in doubt. Bouteflika is likely to be victorious, though not with the implausible ninety percent he secured in the 2009 election. Pre-empting this, His main rival, and former Prime Minister Ali Benflis has already claimed fraud as being the greatest threat to the election. Further, the legitimacy of the election faces a threat from boycotts and voter apathy. Bouteflika’s resolution to stand for a fourth term, despite ailing health which saw the seventy-seven year old spend over three months in a French hospital last year  for a ‘mini stroke’ and not physically participate in the election campaign has galvanised opposition. His campaign rallies have been frequently disrupted and a ‘barakat’ (enough) campaign has been initiated. Moreover, the two main opposition parties (the Rally for Culture and Democracy [RCD] and Movement for the Society of Peace [MSP]) have called for a boycott, citing the lack of transparency. However these are unlikely to alter the election result.

Bouteflika will face greater challenges once elected. Unemployment –which unofficially stands at around thirty percent- and lack of basic services such as housing and health have led to daily protests.  However the country’s two hundred billion dollars in reserves, which it used to quell the 2011 protest movement through the increase of subsidies and public sector salaries, will enable the regime to navigate through this in the short term.  In addition, the population’s fatigue, caused by the 1990s ‘Red Decade which saw the military violently suppressing Islamists leading to the deaths of over two hundred thousand, and the international  intervention in Libya which resulted in a large amount of death and destruction will act to inhibit a broad scale uprising. The lack of coordination between the various opposition formations and their co-option by the regime further decreases the chances for mass mobilization.

Resuscitating the industrial sector, whose contribution to GDP has dropped to five percent from twenty-five percent thirty years ago, will prove difficult. This is especially since investment in the hydrocarbons sector which accounts for over ninety-five percent of export and seventy percent of government revenue have meant that much state expenditure has been directed to the sector. The lack of interest shown by international companies toward investing in the country’s hydrocarbons sector –in 2011 only two of the ten advertised exploration contracts were awarded-, which is a result of its tight regulations on foreign enterprises, will further mean that less state funds will be available for diversion to other sectors. It is significant that the sector only employs around three percent of the country’s workforce despite accounting for over forty percent of GDP.

However Bouteflika’s dealings with the military, specifically the military intelligence service (DRS) directed by General Mohamed Mediene, during this term is more significant. The country is controlled by a cabal of military generals and clans within the National Liberation Front political party (FLN), known simply as ‘le pouvoir’ (the power). These factions were instrumental in ensuring his rise and securing his presidency for the past fifteen years. However recent occurrences have pointed to a strain in these relations. Following a corruption scandal in 2013 (Sonatrach II) which indicted to of his close allies, Chakeb Khelil and Mohamed Rida Hemche, Bouteflika engineered a cabinet reshuffle. The ministers of interior, defence, justice and foreign relations are now loyalists. Further mandatory retirements and the reorganisation of the DRS have been used to curb the powers of the institution.  Major General Tartak Bachir, a key Mediene ally who headed the institution’s internal intelligence agency (DSI) was replaced, while general Mhenna Djehbar was shifted and tasked with heading the agency which coordinates military affairs and controls expenditure (Bureau d’Organisation [BO]). Further, key agencies including the Service Central de Police Judiciaire (SCPJ), the Centre de la Communication et de la Diffusion (CCD), and the Direction Centrale de la Sécurité de l’Armee (DCSA). Were transferred from the DRS’s control into the remit of the military’s chief of staff and key Bouteflika ally general Ahmed Gaid-Salah.  It is noteworthy that Gaid-Salah’s promotion to the position of chief of staff in 2004 was a direct result of Bouteflika’s intervention.

The SCPJ’s transfer was the most contentious as the agency is tasked with investigating corruption in state institutions and had been used by Mediene to eradicate bouteflika associates especially through the Sonatrach I and II probes. The CCD is tasked with media relations, while amongst the tasks of the DCSA is ensuring discipline within the armed forces, ostensibly providing Bouteflika with the ability to influence how the DRS’s agenda is presented to the military and public. This culminated with the Secretary General of the FLN’s (Amar Saidani) February call for mediene’s resignation, accusing him of failure and interfering ‘in activities of political parties, the judiciary and the press’.

However the friction is not likely to escalate overtly. Both men see political stability and the protection of their interests as greater factors. The country has, for the most part, managed to avoid the political instability caused by the Arab uprisings which resulted in the collapse of long-time   regimes in neighbouring Tunisia, and Libya. Calculations around this will inform the vigour of the friction and will likely mean that a protracted, low-profile process rather than a purge will ensue. Further, both are old and ailing (Bouteflika 77 and Mediene 75) and thus their gains will only be enjoyed by their successes.

Bouteflika’s ill health will mean that, despite the assurances of his chief of staff (Ahmed Ouyahia) and campaign manager (Abdelmalek Sellal) he will be unable to exercise his responsibilities. This will likely result in an amendment to the constitution establishing the position of vice president, allowing him to choose a successor, and continuing the path followed by other autocrats in the region- both Mubarak and Gadhafi sought the transfer of power to their sons prior to their ousters. This is in stark contrast to his aforementioned May 2012 statement which provided the impression that questions around the country’s future leadership would be left to state institutions and the younger, post-liberation generation.

Algeria’s importance to the international community (specifically the U.S. and EU) in the field of ‘counter terrorism’ and as an energy supplier will mean that little opposition to the election and subsequent path will be expressed. This could best be inferred from the international community’s weak response to the procedurally flawed May 2012 parliamentary election. Despite the state’s own national election monitoring commission declaring the vote ‘non-credible’ and ‘non-transparent’ foreign observers from the U.S. EU and Arab league sought to argue that it was a first step in the country’s democratic consolidation.

The election, it needs to be noted, was organized when the region was experiencing vast changes and democrats were in the ascendancy-The Mursi regime was still at the helm in Egypt, while Ennahdha maintained control in Tunisia. The subsequent role back and re-emergence and reassertion of control by the gulf monarchies means that the international community now has even less incentive to respond critically to the impending vote.

Ebrahim Shabbir Deen is a researcher at the Afro-Middle East Centre based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He specializes in African and Middle Eastern politics.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
Daniel Kovalik
Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of the Death Squads
Sam Husseini
How the Washington Post Sells the Politics of Fear
Ramzy Baroud
Punishing the Messenger: Israel’s War on NGOs Takes a Worrying Turn
Norman Pollack
Troglodyte Vs. Goebbelean Fascism: The 2016 Presidential Race
Simon Wood
Where are the Child Victims of the West?
Roseangela Hartford
The Hidden Homeless Population
Mark Weisbrot
Obama’s Campaign for TPP Could Drag Down the Democrats
Rick Sterling
Clintonites Prepare for War on Syria
Yves Engler
The Anti-Semitism Smear Against Canadian Greens
August 24, 2016
John Pilger
Provoking Nuclear War by Media
Jonathan Cook
The Birth of Agro-Resistance in Palestine
Eric Draitser
Ajamu Baraka, “Uncle Tom,” and the Pathology of White Liberal Racism
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt and the New Financial Imperialism
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Kent Paterson
Saving Southern New Mexico from the Next Big Flood
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Hubris: Only Tell the Rich for $5000 a Minute!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail