Algeria opposition bastion Kabylie to shun vote
In Algeria’s proud Kabylie region, a traditional opposition stronghold, few entertain any hope that Thursday’s polls can spur a democratic uprising, and voters are a rare and discreet breed.
“I’m not going to vote, that’s for sure,” said Lamine, who sells air conditioners in Tizi Ouzou, a city of around 150,000 nestled in the green hills rolling down from the snow-capped Djurdjura mountains to the Mediterranean.
“And in this part of the country, I don’t think the minority who plan to vote will shout about it from the rooftops,” said 29-year-old who is more comfortable speaking French or Tamazight than Arabic.
Kabyles are a large non-Arab Berber community and, while they resent the term Arab Spring, they were at the forefront of the protest movement that briefly erupted in the wake of Tunisia’s revolution last year.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has trumpeted the May 10 legislative vote as a historic democratic overture but many Kabyles argue that the reforms only tightened the regime’s grip on the country and see a boycott as the only option.
“We only had the birth pangs of a revolution last year. It aborted because of government manipulation and propaganda and because the Algerian people have seen enough violence,” said Ahcene Djema, a local law student.
“But support for a boycott is overwhelming among the students and when a father cannot provide for his family, the situation is not tenable. It won’t be too long before something happens,” said Djema, also a political activist.
One of the two main parties with strong Kabyle roots, the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), has campaigned for a boycott on Thursday, arguing that any semblance of trust in the institutions was gone.
“Amid the ongoing electoral sham, Algerian men and women are convinced more than ever that the institutions, as crafted by the regime, cannot be a suitable platform for them to express their grievances,” Atmane Mazouz, the head of the RCD’s parliamentary group, told reporters on Monday.
Turnout hit a record low in the previous legislative election in 2007 with an official figure of 35 percent but many Algerians and observers predict it will slump even lower on Thursday.
While Mazouz and 18 other RCD lawmakers will not seek to keep their seats in the national assembly, the election sees the return of another opposition party traditionally well grounded in Kabylie.
After a 10-year boycott over fraud accusations, the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), Algeria’s oldest opposition group, took the unexpected decision earlier this year to return to the fray and contest Thursday’s polls.
“There are forces that did everything they could to demonise the parties and discredit the election,” said FFS spokesman Chafai Bouaiche.
He says the people “trust the FFS because it did not take part in the government” but the decision to enter such a controversial election appears to have taken the party’s own base by surprise.
Tizi Ouzou residents say longtime FFS supporters were just as zealous as others in tearing down campaign posters in a town where youths overran the motorway Tuesday in a bid to block trucks delivering ballot boxes.
Many consider voting a betrayal of their decades-old struggle for a secular democracy and recognition of their cultural identity.
A famous Kabyle singer, Takfarinas, had to issue a contrite apology on Facebook after an appearance on state Algerian television in which he urged people to vote triggered furious reactions from his fans.
Hocine Ait Ahmed, the historical leader of the FFS, announced his party’s decision to contest the polls from Geneva, where he has lived for years, but did not return to Algeria to fire up the campaign.
The party spokesman himself admitted “the decision to take part is tactical because we don’t believe in this national assembly” and has had to fight off persistent suspicion that the FFS struck a backroom deal with the regime.