Magharebia (Washington DC)

4 April 2014

Algeria Presidential Campaign Gets Off to Slow Start

Photo: Facebook/Ali Benflis
Electoral campaign in Algeria

Algiers — Despite the sluggish kick off to Algeria's presidential campaign, the six candidates competing in the April 17th poll have not held back from complaining about irregularities.

The National Election Monitoring Committee (CNISEL), which is made up of six members representing each of the candidates, is receiving complaints at both local and national level every day.

According to the committee chairman, Fateh Boutbik, these complaints mainly relate to posters being put up in violation of the rules, physical attacks on representatives of the candidates or their headquarters and media coverage of the campaign.

Boutbik said that as soon as his committee receives objections, it examines them and notifies the parties concerned with a view to resolving these issues. He acknowledged, however, that in terms of media coverage, the committee's role was limited to deciding how much airtime the six candidates should receive in the public media.

The election law made no provision for the advent of private TV channels, which candidates have accused of bias. But the biggest grievance is the fact that the campaign staff of the President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has launched a TV channel and radio station called Wiam.

While President Bouteflika's campaign staff complains of repeated attacks on representatives of their candidate, the other candidates are alleging that state resources are being used by current ministers to campaign.

On this issue, Boutbik has said that his committee has contacted the acting prime minister, Youcef Yousfi, who is the chairman of the election preparations committee. The latter has asked the candidates with complaints to provide evidence. But Boutbik also said that the law punishes the use of state resources for election purposes and abuse of office.

In the belief that the campaign period got off to a tentative start, the committee has asked the authorities to allow the five candidates to receive financial support.

On the streets, virtually no one is interested in the campaigning. The notice boards are bare and every time a poster is put up, passers-by quickly take it down.

In the working-class neighbourhood of Badjarrah, young people are gathered on the pavement to discuss football and cars. When they are asked what they think about the presidential election, they joke about it.

"What election are you talking about?" asked Nassim Khoudi, a student. "It's something that doesn't concern us, it's between the people in authority; they can sort it out among themselves. And anyway, whether you vote or not, the result is a foregone conclusion and the turnout will be inflated again."

His friend and fellow student Sofiane Marsali said: "They've never thought about us when it comes to dealing with our grievances, but every time there's an election, they promise us the earth."

A more moderate view was expressed by Hasna Touahria, a teacher whom we met at the local market. She said that voting was a right.

"I disagree with those who are calling for a boycott, even if we're used to seeing fraudulent practices," Touahria commented. "I think people must turn out to vote en masse and make their decision and make sure that their decision is not taken away from them. In my view that's the only way of putting pressure on the authorities to stop deciding for us."

Bachir Arbaoui, a pensioner, said that nothing would stop him from fulfilling his electoral duty.

"I will go and vote, whatever the parties and the media say. Not to please this government, but so that the country remains stable and doesn't fall into a crisis like the ones our neighbours are having," he told Magharebia.

"We've suffered enough because of terrorism. We don't want our children to go through that," Arbaoui added.

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