Candidates for the presidential election scheduled for the 12th of December have resorted to campaigning in the Sahara desert, out of fear of being confronted by Algerians, who in their majority, reject the upcoming election as a farce.
Key army figures see in this election a way out, to avoid prosecution for the rife corruption within their ranks, as well as a way to find legitimacy on the international stage. As far as the regime is concerned, the people’s demands for a functioning democracy and independent judiciary, are not part of the equation.
Although illegitimate, the government and parliament have pushed through controversial legislation such as the hydrocarbons law, which will allow British Petroleum and Total access to shale gas exploitation. Algerians see in this a form of “bribing the West” in exchange of support for the military junta’s roadmap.
Officially, the candidates’ campaigning starts today, Sunday 17, however things are far from going according to plan, with all the candidates having to travel around the country clandestinely, under heavy police protection.
Over the past weeks, the regime has hardened its line to ensure the presidential election isn’t compromised, many more journalists, activists and political opponents have been arrested. In total, NGOs estimate the number at over 200.
The five candidates taking part in the presidential race, Azzedine Mihoubi, Ali Benflis, Abdelkader Bengrina, Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Abdelaziz Belaid, have all served under former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. As such they do not inspire much confidence and are largely rejected by the majority of the Algerian people as a result.
In Algiers and several other cities, the public panels dedicated to accommodating the candidates’ posters remain blank. Some panels were ransacked and others had the photos of the pro-democracy detainees plastered over. Garbage bags can also be seen hung on the panels.
In the city of Tlemcen, thirty seven pro-democracy protesters who came out to oppose candidate Ali Benflis were arrested, according to media reports. In Adrar, a few demonstrators were also arrested upon coming out to oppose the arrival of Azzedine Mihoubi in their town.
Religion did not escape instrumentalisation either, a note issued to imams across the country demanded that they promote voting as part of their Friday’s sermon. An imam, went as far as referring to non-voters as “infidels”, adding that the religion of islam advocates voting.
To prop up the candidates, the regime organised pro-election demonstrations, however, attracting only a few dozen people at most.
According to an eyewitness who spoke to the Algiers Herald, the pro-election protesters were brought in buses and paid the equivalent of 20 Euros each. Earlier today, a video published on social media appeared to show school children being taken to a pro-regime protest while under the supervision of unidentified adults.