By Mouna Sadek
As the May 10th legislative elections draw near, Algerians are expressing concerns over the potential for fraud.
To guarantee a fair vote, the judiciary has emphasised its commitment to applying the law to ensure transparency. Magistrate Slimane Boudi, chairman of the National Election Supervisory Committee, told Magharebia that his institution would be provided with additional staff for election day to guarantee that the voting runs smoothly.
Candidates, parties and the electoral body “have the power to refer matters to the national committee which oversees the legislative elections if there is any irregularity liable to hinder the smooth running of the electoral process”, he emphasised.
In addition the judicial oversight, hundreds of international election observers are set to monitor the poll.
“The AU, EU and Arab League are to send 200, 120 and 100 observers respectively for the legislative elections on 10 May,” said Halim Benatallah, Algerian Secretary of State to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, who has responsibility for the expatriate community.
Despite these assurances, there have been mixed reactions from political parties. Labour Party representative Taazibt Ramdane said that all parties involved in the elections bear a heavy responsibility to enable the public to express themselves in total freedom and to choose their representatives in the People’s National Assembly (APN).
“The country’s future is at stake,” he told Magharebia. He said the Labour Party had asked for a single committee consisting of magistrates and party representatives.
“Unfortunately, our suggestion was not followed, and we fear that it could lead to confusion. We expect this committee and all parties involved in the ballot to have a sense of responsibility. The ballot on 10 May is an historic test for our country,” he said.
Meanwhile, Abdeslam Bouchouareb, who represents the National Democratic Assembly (RND), said that the national election committee is “the best guarantee” of transparency.
“The president’s guarantees on the neutrality of the administration and the presence of foreign observers are guarantees that the ballot will be credible,” he told Magharebia. “Incidentally, I have learned that even the Americans are going to send observers to Algeria.”
Bouguerra Soltani, chairman of the Movement for a Society of Peace (MSP), told reporters that there were a number of “weak points” because magistrates lacked powers.
“Will a magistrate be able to withdraw anyone suspected of attempted fraud at any time? Will he be able to decide that a polling station’s opening hours should be extended, or is it still the wali who decides on the extension? Do we have a law to stamp out fraud?” he wondered.
“So we are faced with reassuring words from the politicians and a strong political will to move towards credible and transparent elections, but that will has not been translated into legal tools capable of reassuring those taking part in the forthcoming ballot,” Soltani added.
Fateh Rebiai, En-Nahda Movement secretary-general, felt that the re-launch of electoral committees with the involvement of party representatives “mean that the elections will have greater transparency”.
“If the committee has broad powers and works with the parties, then it is possible that it will fulfil its role,” Rebiai said. “However, there are some fuzzy areas needing clarification: I’m talking about the committees in the wilayas and communes. If the parties are not represented there, then we fear that the credibility of the elections could be undermined.”
El Islah’s Hamlaoui Akouchi thinks that this is a unique opportunity for the Algerian courts to demonstrate their independence and to offer Algerians a credible, clean ballot. “We fear that the administration will hold sway over the committee, go beyond its powers and ignore its orders,” he told Magharebia. “If that sort of thing happens, then we shall protest most strongly, and may even withdraw from the elections.”
But the guarantees put forward by the government have not convinced everyone.
“It’s a biased process,” alleged law professor Ahmed Betatche. “All year long, the political and media landscape is a no-go area for the political opposition. There is a flagrant lack of political will,” he was quoted as saying in El Watan.
The nation’s youth have also expressed mistrust towards election organisers, launching a website called “Nahrag” – or “I don’t care.”
“Our leaders hope to ride the wave of democratisation, claiming that voting on 10 May will be free and transparent. They think they can prove it by calling in international observers – particularly Europeans and Americans – but those few observers will only be able to comment on the polling stations they see,” read a press statement from the Network for the Defence of Liberties and Dignity.
Amine, 30, is the director of an IT company, and shows little enthusiasm for these elections. “Frankly, whether or not there’s any fraud, I have the impression that nothing much is going to change, because MPs care so little about the people,” he told Magharebia.
But his wife Safia will be heading for the ballot box on May 10th. She feels the only way to fight fraud is to turn out and vote.