Algeria debates voter abstention penalty
By Fidet Mansour for Magharebia in Algiers - 20/04/12
As part of Algeria's effort to encourage citizens to participate in the May 10th legislative election, the human rights commission suggested that people be forced to vote.
Farouk Ksentini, chairman of the National Consultative Committee for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (CNCPPDH), on April 7th proposed that there should be a punishment for those who fail to vote.
Political party members and Algerian citizens reacted to Ksentini's plan with disdain.
"We need to find suitable punishment for this negative behaviour," Ksentini said. Abstention is "inadmissible" in a country where more than a million martyrs have given their lives "to secure the right to vote", he said.
According to Ksentini, the government can't be held accountable when the people have failed to vote, which is the minimum demanded of them.
Front for Change (FC) leader Abdelmadjid Menasra said he was "clearly not encouraged" by Ksentini's proposal. However, the leader of the Islamist-leaning party said that it was "important to analyse the reason behind electors boycotting the ballot box".
Voices from the streets of Algeria both made suggestions on encouraging voters to participate as well as condemned the notion of a forced vote.
Amrouch Krim, 28, a university student, said that in order to encourage people to vote, "you simply have to make elections transparent, clean and honest."
"If voting is a means of democratic expression, then abstention is also a means of expression; a rejection or refusal of a particular situation," he said.
Amine, 40, said that no-one will turn out to vote if they are "pressured to do it". "The authorities need to give the necessary political guarantees for a free election before demanding that the electorate vote on May 10th."
Amira Selimi, 25, a public employee, maintained that "forcing citizens to vote is an idea from another time," and that it would be "impossible" or even "unimaginable" to apply it today.
The spectre of abstention has cast a shadow over the leaders of the political parties as May's legislative elections draw nearer. But they have proposed a different approach from that suggested by the CNCPPDH chairman to deal with it.
Miloud Chorfi, the spokesman for the National Democratic Rally (RND), part of the governing coalition, is pinning his hopes on raising Algerian voter awareness.
"Mobilisation and public awareness are fundamental to ensuring a high level of turnout for the legislative elections on May 10th," Chorfi said. The most important thing for members of the public is "that they be made aware of the issues affecting them in different areas," he added.
Recognising that the proposed punishment for abstainers may in fact have encouraged those who were thinking of voting to abstain, Algerian Popular Movement (MPA) leader Amara Benyounes, has chosen a very special method to mobilise voters. At every public appearance, he has issued a warning about a strong resurgence of Islamists if there was a high level of abstention.
Benyounes warns that "all the militants will be turning out for the ballot box, come snow, wind or earthquake."
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