Even with a participation rate of 35.37 percent, the Algerian legislative election, held in May, without being a spectacular success, have been an indicator for the new political landscape of Algeria and the reconfiguration of the government.
The lack of enthusiasm for the election was predictable. These elections, which determine the composition of the Algerian Parliament, have always culminated with a participation rate of approximately 40 percent, rarely more.
Compared to the presidential or local elections, which usually attract more voters, the 2017 legislative election strongly signaled the concrete failure of the Constitution of Algeria, which was amended in 2016 and is strongly supported by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and considered one of the most fundamental and important texts of his political heritage.
Despite the average participation, the elections at the level of APN (People’s National Assembly) delivered a revised political score card that was a bit unexpected: a notable decline of the FLN (The National Liberation Front), a remarkable breakthrough of the RND (The National Rally for Democracy), the return to grace of the Islamists, the validation of the parties of the middle class and the reveltions of new political promises. This election has also induced a change in the head of the Executive, with the appointment of the new Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune in place of Abdelmalek Sellal, who is definitely paying for the lack of unity in his government and its failure to convince the Islamists to be a part of it.
Decline of FLN
Mired in organic difficulties and an unpredictable management for the past few years, the FLN has clearly paid the price for its internal divisions. The historic party lost 44 seats (160 members), but paradoxically won more votes. The hemorrhage in terms of seats will certainly lead to several consequences internally and in the external political landscape.
Internally, despite the measured satisfaction, the FLN risks reviving its leadership crisis. Some influential executives fear this half-success – or half-failure, depending on one’s point of view – will impact the next campaign of the municipal elections, which is coming up soon on the political calendar (October 2017).
The FLN risks suffering further losses if it doesn’t learn from the legislative elections and find its political coherence/unity here onwards. However, on the external political landscape, the FLN’s decline will induce new permutations and combinations, more tactical than ideological, which will have influence on the party level within the Government.
The RND breakthrough
If there was a remarkable winner in these elections, it would be the RND of Ahmed Ouyahia, who simultaneously holds the positions of the Secretary General of the second most influential Algerian Party and the Director of the Cabinet of the Presidency of the Republic.
From being considered moribund barely three years ago, after the eviction of its former head Mohamed Bensalah, who retained the leadership of the Senate, the RND came into its own again under the leadership of Ouyahia, who led a campaign that was lacking in flamboyance, but was sober, pedagogical and lent credibility to the value of the RND candidates.
Ouyahia, known as a master strategist, succeeded in attaining more than the symbolic number of 100 seats by adopting a multi-dimensional tactic. To begin with, he didn’t yield an inch of ground to the FLN, at least in the media, and responded tit for tat to all of the attacks of his ‘big brother’ of the FLN, Djamel Ould Abbés.
Gaining a foothold
The other beneficiaries of this election were the Islamist factions. The President of the Movement of the Society for Peace (MSP, ex-Hamas), Abderrazak Makri, who campaigned with his partner Abdelmadjid Menacera, President of the ‘Front of the Change’ (a branch created after a split within the MSP), reinforced the presence of the Islamists in the parliament with 33 seats.
Leading a modern campaign, inspired by American techniques and the success of Erdogan’s AKP in Turkey, the MSP has secured for itself what was the most important for it: a respectable presence in Parliament in terms of numbers and the guarantee of having a parliamentary group (the law allows this for parties with more than 20 members).
MSP executives who favor participation are inspired by the Tunisian model of Rached Ghannouchi. For those against integration with the government, the ‘compromise’ of the participation in legislative elections should not lead to a ‘compromise of principles’ in management with the current government. Supporters of non-integration at the Government Palace want to keep an autonomy of action only within the opposition, fearing that, with the upcoming unpopular economic measures (inflation, decrease of the subsidies, reduction in imports, less money for the social aid…), the party may be held accountable, in the same way as the Government, in the public’s opinion.
Beyond the heavyweight FLN-RND-MSP trio, other parties had differing degrees of luck at the elections. The other Islamist alliance, Nahda-Adala-Bina, retained its 15 seats and is biding its time. Embodied by Abdellah Djaballah, one of the most conservative Islamist leaders, this alliance functioned worse than that of the ‘Muslim brothers’ – as they call their competitors of the MSP – and it is paying the price for its proximity with the senior leaders of the dissolved party, responsible for the national tragedy.
The TAJ party of controversial former minister Amar Ghoul was surprised at the last minute to see its seats increasing from 19 to 20 (giving it an opportunity to be a parliamentary group) per the final decision of the Constitutional Council.
But the most remarkable breakthrough in the “small parties” was Abdelkrim Belaid’s Front El Moustakbal (FM), a young nationalist leader who grew up in the shadow of the FLN and who, unlike his seniors, speaks in an aggressive and uncompromising manner on the fate of Algeria, while coming across as patriotic to such an extent that the political specialists believe he will have a radiant future within the Government or even outside it.
Focus on 2019
Although few parties are progressing in the current scenario, the refusal of the Islamists to integrate with the government redesigns both of their priorities. The end of the legislative election marks the beginning of the preparation of the presidential elections of 2019. The upcoming Presidential polls, with respect to the results of the parties of the Presidential alliance, redefine the minimum that the future President of the Republic must arrive at: a balance between the two locomotive forces of Parliament and FLN-RND, while not being rejected by the Islamists. There’s no other way.
Tebboune: Bouteflika’s ‘Swiss knife’
Becoming the new Algerian Prime Minister is the fruit of Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s dedication. A seasoned bureaucrat, experienced in local government, loyal to a fault to the President, he has a proven track record of handling arduous missions in various departments. He was the former Minister of Housing and has a reputation of carrying out difficult functions and living up to the President’s expectations.
President Bouteflika had even turned to him in 1999 to revamp the department of housing in a country beset with a serious housing crisis. And Tebboune did not disappoint. The cornerstone of the president’s program was the promise of constructing more than one million houses annually. Tebboune achieved the objective over and above the presidential demand, by delivering 2.3 million constructed houses.
When Tebboune joined the housing department, the deficit of houses in the country was determined at more than three million units, which dropped to only 700,000 in 2014 and further to 350,000 in 2016. This prowess has impressed the public to the extent that Tebboune’s televised appearances, with his direct speech and sincerity, and his clear transparency in the management of the sector, have succeeded in convincing even the most skeptical of people.
Selection by live lottery, laying out of development plans, diversification of builders, bringing various stakeholders on the same platform, organization of the work sites – Tebboune knew very well how to put a social face on the thorny issue of housing in Algeria, where the demand is explosive.
With his nomination, President Bouteflika certainly hopes to replicate this winning formula again, especially given that the future PM will have to perform miracles with inadequate financial resources, while protecting social safety nets.
Tebboune’s brief foray in the domain of commerce, after the death of Bakhti Belaib (former Algerian Minster of Trade), declared his emphatic triumph, as he succeeded in only a few months in declaring war against fraudulent businessmen and dishonest importers, knowing fully well the power of these lobbies in the informal economy.