Algerians will keep rejecting elections until they are fair and free

Algerians will keep rejecting elections until they are fair and free
Comment: Algerians will reject any proposal for elections that simply rubber stamps the old regime, writes Malia Bouattia.
5 min read
24 Oct, 2019
Algeria is due to hold elections on 12 December [Getty]
The Algerian people have been on the streets for 35 consecutive weeks now.

Two elections have been called in an attempt to placate them, and both were rejected by mass mobilisations. A president was forced to step down, and several leaders who have been complicit in the corrupt and repressive running of the country have been arrested, and some even given prison sentences.

Yet the biggest barrier to democratisation of the country; the Algerian military, is showing no sign of giving in.

The most recent chapter in this process is the announcement that the regime plans to hold a presidential election on 12 December.

While this might seem contradictory, especially given that the uprising started over the desire to hold free and fair elections, the people of Algeria have mobilised in their millions once again against it.

None of the necessary guarantees that have been demanded time and again by the people, to avoid yet another electoral farce that ends up rubber stamping the regime's hand-picked candidate, have been put in place. 

There is an outright rejection that anyone complicit in the old regime's practices over the last six decades, should be even remotely associated with what they seek to be a transformed political system.

The masses are claiming their right to elect a leader and government that has the power to truly lead, instead of simply serving as the face of a military dictatorship. Protestors have made it clear that conditions are not yet fit for an election, and that if a vote happens, it will be on their terms and timeline.

Algerians don't want yet another electoral farce that ends up rubber stamping the regime's hand-picked candidate

General Gaïd Salah - the most powerful man in the military and the effective current ruler of the country - and his ilk hope that the elections will ease tensions on the streets, provide legitimacy once again for the regime, and allow them to return to "business as usual".

One has to wonder how Salah expects to pull this off, given the immediate
rejection of the elections announced by interim president Abdelkader Bensalah on 15 September.

The people have been consistent and clear about the process they wish to see, and elections held within current parameters - effectively controlled by the military regime - is certainly not what they're looking for. 

Even attempts at offering limited concessions in exchange for popular participation have been rejected. A National Independent Electoral Authority was formed to supposedly ensure a fair and free election, but this did not deter the masses from pushing forward with a call for nation-wide boycott for the third time.

Demonstrators know that since Algeria's independence in 1962, those effectively pulling the strings have been the military and their allies - known in Algeria as 'le pouvoir', the power. Any proposal that comes from this institution, is empty. The people demand that they step down from their positions and loosen their chokehold over the country's institutions before any progress can be made towards democracy.

Read more: Algerian motor tycoon arrested amid anti-corruption campaign

Even the arrest of businessmen and political figures, including Said Bouteflika, the former president's brother who was often referred to as the person pulling the strings following his brother's stroke in 2013, have been received with great hesitancy. To the Hirak (the movement), these are token gestures that continue to undermine and underestimate the depth of their demands and distrust of the regime.

It also raises new dangers. Indeed, locking up high profile people without trial in military custody avoids the necessary openness and transparency needed for justice. Seeing the same methods used against opponents and on protestors - as is increasingly the case - is particularly worrying. 

The increasing number of arrests, with reasons ranging from waving Berber flags to organising against the elections, the aggressive confrontation by the police against student demonstrations, and the detention of journalists (Le Provincial editor-in-chief Bendjama Mustapha is the fifth and most recent), all indicate a heightened move towards violent repression of a people unwilling to take anything being "offered" by Salah.

lawyers marched in Algiers calling for a liberation of justice. They targeted official judiciary buildings, which they believe are devoid of justice.

This month, we commemorate two crucial moments in Algeria's history; the Paris Massacres of 1961 when Algerians demonstrated for their nation's independence, and the October riots of 1988 when the people rose up against the independent state's repression and one-party rule.

Both mark a trend in the Algerian people's unwillingness to stand by silently in the face of their oppression. Despite the knowledge that both of these events ended with violent repression, as well as the death of hundreds at the hands of those withholding the people's freedom, they also serve as powerful symbols of a people committed to taking on repressive powers and demanding their freedom. 

The faces of the tyrants may have changed over the years, but the urgent need to uproot the structures which empower them, has not

Algerians march week after week and are planning to continue. The lessons learned from both historic experiences, much to the regime's dismay, have not been that resistance leads to death, but that it has always been a long process which involves much sacrifice and loss.

The faces of the tyrants may have changed over the years, but the urgent need to uproot the structures which empower them, has not.

The last nine months of mobilisation demonstrate how determined the people are not to repeat the mistakes of the past. They will not settle for semi-transition or limited freedom - nor are they interested in simply changing the names and faces of those that rule them.

Their demands are captured in the movement's most popular chant: Yetnahawga3 - "They all have to go"
. The people want it all and they are prepared to keep fighting as long as it takes.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.