2021 saw the country of Algeria hold a snap election in which the entire lower house of Parliament was up for reelection, all 407 of them. This was in major part due to the Hirak protest movement calling for major reforms in the government. Originally started as a movement opposing then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s attempt at running for a fifth term, the Hirak movement has grown to call for major changes to occur in the government, namely concerning corruption.
The snap election saw the National Liberation Front, or the FLN, gain 105 of the 407 seats up for election. This was enough to win a plurality in the chamber, however there had been really no change at all given that this has been the majority party for much of Algeria’s history. Even though they lost a number of seats, the power balance did not change within Parliament seeing as the FLN still was the main party.
As has been stated, the Hirak movement was calling for major reforms within the government, and one of those reforms was to stop corruption. Corruption was a major problem within the Algerian government and had caused many to lose faith in the government being impartial. By holding an election where every seat in the lower House of parliament was to be voted on, the FLN hoped that this would put an end to those reform calls and show the populace that they were a legitimate government. This was one of the other main reasons for these snap elections was for the FLN to establish more legitimacy in the eyes of the populace.
The only problem with this was that only 23% of eligible voters actually voted in this election. This was in part due to the Hirak movement calling for a boycott of the election. It worked, seeing as voter turnout was incredibly low, and did nothing to increase confidence in the administration. If the government was truly trying to show the people that they were a legitimate government, it failed miserably.
Even if all of this had been done in good faith and there was a high voter turnout, it would all have been for nought. The main reason this snap election did not mean anything was because the military controlled the country, not Parliament. It is the military that really makes the decisions and runs the country, and Parliament is more of a front for them, rather than the true governing body. It is the military, still to this day, that actually runs the country.
The entirety of the snap election was just to attempt to please the Hirak movement to the point that they ended their calls for major reforms. This is just another instance of a party, or in this case the military, using democratic institutions to erode the very same institutions. The whole idea for the snap election was to maintain at the very least a plurality with Parliament to ensure that they would still be the ruling party, while also stopping the massive protests against the government.
The first part of the plan worked, even though it took a coalition for them to have the majority, but failed to accomplish the second goal. They not only failed to stop these protests from occurring again, they even gave them more fuel seeing as how the elections were an obvious play at shoring up support in order to calm the populace down. Even though the elections were fair, less than a quarter of the country voted, meaning that the current government is not legitimate in the eyes of many citizens.
It also does not help that many people in Algeria know that it is really the military running the show. And because of this, any changes that Parliament imposes are going to be completely superficial. The military still runs the country behind the scenes, so any changes or reforms that are enacted from this new government are all just going to be for appearances. It does not matter that there is supposed to be a whole new government, they are not going to do anything different until the military tells them to do so. They are not going tackle corruption like many in the population want because they have no incentive too when the military are the ones actually governing.
The democratic process is working against democracy itself in Algeria. The FLN and military used the democratic process of elections to gain more power which is directly leading to less democracy. However, this attempt almost backfired, seeing as how the FLN lost over 60 seats in Parliament and this was, again, with only 23% of voters actually voting.
The snap elections could have gone much worse had the Hirak movement not called for a boycott. If there was not a boycott on the elections, who knows? Maybe the FLN loses even more seats and its slim plurality giving way for a new ruling party that stands up to the military and actually implements lasting reforms. The democratic process may have actually succeeded and allowed for a new ruling party that would implement real change.
Unfortunately, this is a future that seems too good to be true. With the FLN still in power and the military backing them, they will continue to use Parliament as a means to further their own goals rather than those of the people.