Voter abstention risk worries Algeria
By Ademe Amine for Magharebia in Algiers – 26/01/12
A few months before Algeria's legislative elections, the government is facing a serious challenge – abstention.
Never before has the fear of empty ballot boxes sparked so much alarm in Algeria. To mobilise voters, the government launched two initiatives. The ministry of religious affairs on January 22nd announced plans to instruct imams to give sermons designed to encourage worshippers to turn out en masse on the polling day.
The role of imams is to "raise the awareness of the public about the importance of going to polling stations to do their electoral duty, without pushing them in the direction of any particular party", according to Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdallah Ghlamallah.
He added, however, that imams "must not have any political affiliation if they are to accomplish their mission in full".
A few days earlier, the interior ministry started sending out text messages, saying: "Voting is the exercise of citizenship and duty."
"Personally, I am scared of this," Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said about the possibility of low participation, "since the legislative elections have not attracted large turnouts in the past."
He added that parliamentary elections "suffer from the highest rate of abstention" as opposed to local or presidential polls.
Political parties also joined the campaign.
"Get the undecided moving, wake them up and motivate them to go out to vote in large numbers, because we are worried about voter apathy," National Liberation Front (FLN) Secretary-General Abdelaziz Belkahdem said on January 21st in Oran. "The forthcoming elections will be different from previous ones because we are in a different context and an unstable environment."
"We are scared not of the Islamists, but of abstention," Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia declared in early January.
Abstention is "a real concern" and a "challenge" for politicians, who must persuade the public of the need to vote, according to Seddik Chihab, of the National Democratic Rally (RND).
For his part, Amara Benyounes, from the Union for Democracy and the Republic (UDR), called on Algerians to vote as "a huge turnout would guarantee a win for democrats and patriots".
"A high rate of abstention would help the Islamists," he said January 17th on Radio 3.
Two days later, Workers' Party Secretary-General Louisa Hanoune stressed "the need to take serious action quickly to encourage the public to vote".
As for the Islamist parties, they argue that public participation is a prerequisite for election credibility.
"We must bring an end to the alternation in power of these two parties (the RND and FLN) and ensure that the elections will be free and fair," said Bouguerra Soltani, whose Movement of Society for Peace quit Algeria's ruling coalition.
For his part, El Islah Secretary-General Hamlaoui Akouchi on January 20th urged the government to create "independent authorities to oversee the forthcoming legislative elections", which he believes is the only way of maximising the number of people who turn out to vote in May.
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