Q&A: Algerian parliamentary elections
- 8 May 2012
- From the section Africa
Algerians go to the polls on 10 May to vote in parliamentary elections which the authorities have billed as more free and transparent than ever before and which they say are part of a gradual, managed transition towards democracy.
Under pressure to reform after last year's "Arab Spring" revolts in neighbouring countries, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika approved the establishment of 23 new political parties and an increase in the number of seats in parliament.
The official slogan of the election, repeated in commercials running on state television, is: "Algeria is our spring."
Who can vote?
Oil and gas-rich Algeria has some 21 million eligible voters out of a population of 37 million. Anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to vote.
What will they be voting for?
Voters will choose deputies to fill 462 seats in the new parliament. The previous National People's Assembly had 389 seats. The interior ministry says that 25,800 candidates will be competing, more than double the 12,200 candidates who competed in the previous polls, held in 2007. On average there are more than 62 candidates for each available seat.
What about women?
Some 7,647 women are in the race and are expected to win 119 seats in the next parliament, compared with the 28 women in the current parliament. New rules compel parties to give women 30% of places on their lists of candidates.
What is the significance of the vote?
The vote is seen by some as a test of the reforms promised by the government to avert the spread of Arab Spring uprisings that brought down entrenched regimes in neighbouring Tunisia and Libya.
What is the turnout likely to be?
According to a poll carried out by El Watan newspaper on 6 April, turnout is unlikely to exceed 44%.
Some analysts predict that turnout could be around 35%, the record low in the last parliamentary election in 2007.
Some observers believe voters are despondent as they feel the same familiar faces are running for office, that parliament does not have the power to implement reforms, and that the authorities are not prepared to loosen their tight grip on power.
Who is calling for a boycott?
The secular Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), which has 19 seats in the outgoing parliament, has called for an election boycott, saying that "all participants in the 10 May vote have negotiated their quotas" in the future assembly.
The Islamist militant group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which originated in Algeria, has also called for a boycott, describing recent reforms as no more than window-dressing by a degenerate political clique desperate to stay in power.
The Socialist Forces Front (FFS), based in Algeria's Berber provinces, has decided to take part in the polls after boycotting elections for more than a decade.
Which parties are likely to do well?
The two parties in the ruling coalition - the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the National Democratic Rally (RND) - and a new coalition of three Islamist parties, are expected to take the lion's share of the vote.
The Islamist grouping, the new Green Algeria Coalition, consists of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), which recently quit the tripartite ruling alliance, the Islamic Renaissance Movement (Ennahda) and the National Reform Movement.
Who is supervising the vote?
The elections will be supervised by the National Commission for the Monitoring of the Legislative Elections (CNSEL). It includes judges and representatives of political parties and independent candidates. It is headed by Mohamed Seddiki a fierce critic of the government and a member of a minor political party, Ahdd54.
What about foreign observers?
After widespread allegations of fraud in previous elections, the government has pledged transparency for these elections, and is allowing the participation of 500 foreign observers including 120 from the European Union, 200 from the African Union (AU), 100 from the Arab League, 20 from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and 10 from the UN.
Several non-governmental organisations, including the Jimmy Carter Center, are expected to send observers.
What happened in previous elections?
Algeria gave up its one-party system in 1989, but in 1991 the government cancelled general elections after the Islamic Salvation Front, an Islamist party, won the first round of voting. Cancellation of that election led to a decade of violence which left some 200,000 people dead, according to official figures.
Voter turnout in the May 2007 parliamentary elections was 35%. The FLN won 136 of the 389 seats, the RND 61 and the MSP 52, thus keeping control of the assembly. The left-wing Workers' Party won 26 seats, while the RCD took 19. The rest of the seats were won by other minor political parties and independent candidates.
National Liberation Front (FLN)
The FLN was the movement which fought French colonial rule. After independence in 1962, it ruled in a one-party system, coming to be known as "the state within the state". It is part of the ruling presidential alliance together with the National Democratic Rally (RND). President Bouteflika is honorary chairman of the FLN and most government ministers are members.
National Democratic Rally (RND)
The RND is led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and is part of the ruling presidential alliance. It is well represented among the administration and the business world. In its manifesto, the party urges voters "to work together for the preservation of a united Algeria''.
Green Algeria Coalition
The bloc was formed in early 2012 and says it is confident of winning a majority of seats in parliament, after which its priorities will include the drafting of a new constitution for ''a democratic and social sovereign Algerian state, respecting Islamic values". The Algerian paper Liberte said that ''even if they pretend to present a system of governance based on equal opportunity and social justice to allow social and economic development, the leaders of the alliance want only to build an Islamic state and to apply Sharia [Islamic law].''
Socialist Forces Front (FFS)
The Socialist Forces Front (FFS), one of the biggest opposition parties, is taking part after boycotting all national elections for the past 15 years. It was founded in 1963 by Hocine Ait Ahmed to protest at the one-party system. Since multi-party politics were introduced in 1989, the opposition has systematically charged elections were rigged by the ruling party. The party said that by taking part in the poll it was "continuing the political, peaceful and people's fight for political, economic, social and cultural rights".
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