On December 12th, Algeria held its first elections since the ousting of its long-standing President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. However, the elections were marred with low turnout, with the protest movement viewing all candidates as members of the establishment.
After months of back-and-forth debate, Algeria held its first elections on Thursday since the protest movement that brought down the country’s long-standing President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The elections saw many Algerians turning up to exercise their electoral rights, with many of them seeing the elections as the means to move the country forward after months of political gridlock.
However, the elections were marred by a relatively low turnout. Many Algerians felt that every single one of the candidates running for the position of President were members of the ruling elite, feeling that electing any of them would simply return Algeria to business-as-usual, without resolving any of the structural issues that had led to the mobilisation of the anti-Bouteflika ‘Hirak’ movement to begin with.
In the lead-up to the elections, the capital city Algiers and other major cities across Algeria continued to witness nightly protests, with the demonstrators calling for the boycott of the elections. Similarly, the election day saw scuffles at a number of voting stations, with angry citizens condemning the election as a sham. In one notable incident, angry protesters destroyed boxes filled with ballot papers in defiance against the elections.
These tensions surrounding the legitimacy of the vote will be one of the first major challenges the new President of Algeria – currently anticipated to be former Prime Minister, Abdelmadjid Tebboune – will face. It is likely that the Hirak movement will continue its protests in a bid to hold the new government accountable. Meanwhile, a low election turnout will prove to be a challenge of legitimacy for the new President.
Despite these issues, the fact that the protests have not turned violent is a significant credit to all parties involved. While there have been concerns about severe police response in some cases, as well as troubling news of activists being arrested, Algerians across the country appear to be intent on keeping the situation peaceful, likely due to the fact that many of them still remember the days when the country was mired in a brutal civil war for most of the 1990s.