Three Algerian opposition parties, all of which are Islamist, have called for a boycott of elections in April after it was announced that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika would run for a fourth term. Bouteflika has yet to announce his intentions himself, but he has met all the requirements to register his candidacy with the interior ministry.
This election will be the first since the beginning of multi-party politics in Algeria that no Islamist parties will be represented. However, what is significant about this boycott is that it is the first time the MSP and RCD have joined together in opposition to the ruling government, potentially resulting in a stronger opposition force for Algeria in the future. Cooperation has not been a strong point for the Islamist parties in the past, and their presence on the political scene has been shrinking.
What does this mean for democracy assistance agencies? More specifically, if opposition parties, no matter how large or small their impact, are pulling out of elections because they 1. don’t believe their voice will be heard through elections, 2. they feel that elections are not free and fair in the first place, and 3. believe the country is run ‘behind the scenes’ and reform cannot occur due to this electoral masquerade, how should democracy assistance agencies reform their programming, policies, and funding to specifically address the problems in Algeria?
A few general suggestions I would offer up are:
1. If people do not think there voices are being heard through elections, democracy assistance agencies need to find another intervention other than elections. If citizens aren’t participating in elections because they feel they are ineffective, the approach needs to be revised. A blanket approach to democracy just doesn’t work.
2. If one of the main reasons opposition parties are boycotting elections (in Algeria) is because they don’t believe they are free and fair, democracy assistance agencies, like Transparency International, could have a larger presence in the country during the elections. It would be even better if these election monitoring agencies were invited to participate by the National Liberation Front, the powerful ruling party supporting Bouteflika. Once the elections were conducted, based on the results, if the ruling government made changes to the way elections are conducted and trained their citizens to administer and monitor elections in the future, the opposition may place more trust in the ruling government and consider reentering the political arena, feeling that they will be heard and have a fair chance.
3. When opposition parties or citizens of a country believe that their government is being ruled “behind the scenes,” the lack of transparency creates other issues for the country. I don’t have a solution to this problem, or the other two, but I think more than inviting an organization to determine how transparent your government is needs to done. You can obviously have countries where the ruling party isn’t trusted or doesn’t perform for the people, but you can’t really have a democracy without those things. I think a solution to this problem lies within policies reforms and democracy assistance agencies collaborating with ruling parties to ensure the policies implemented are transparent and supported by the people.