The Algerian regime still excels in the art of opacity and tongue in cheek. More than 76% of Algerians did not go to the polls on 1er November, for the referendum on the constitutional reform desired by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. “This abstention is not the reflection of a silent majority, but the political expression of refusal by more than 86% of Algerians”, argues Saïd Salhi, vice-president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, who adds “no”, null or void votes to abstentions.
Supporters of Hirak, the protest movement born in February 2019 against the fifth term of President Bouteflika, had advocated the boycott of an election “Change of facade” of an authoritarian regime. The Islamists had called for voting “no”.
But this slap for the regime becomes a “Plebiscite” for the official press agency APS, which retains the victory of the “yes” (66.8% of valid votes cast). “At this historic moment, citizens have once again expressed the Algerian people’s attachment to their national unity, to the credibility of their institutions and to their full and entire sovereignty”, welcomes the Presidency of the Republic in a statement, in the absence of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 74, sick and hospitalized in Germany since October 28.
And, according to Mohamed Charfi, the president of the so-called independent elections authority, the turnout of 23.7% “Does not pose a problem, neither legally nor constitutionally”.
“This slap for the regime is also a slap for the Hirak, argues political scientist Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck of the Carnegie Institute in Beirut. This Constitution aims to break the movement of February 22 by reappropriating it – the preamble to the Constitution mentions the blessed Hirak who gave birth to a new Algeria – and above all to mark the end of the episode of Bouteflika’s succession. “ Authoritarianism is in full swing in the country. The National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees lists 82 prisoners of conscience.
According to Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, Algeria is living at a time of regression after the relative openness under the reign of Bouteflika. The question of who governs in the absence of the president remains open. “It was through a leak from Saudi Arabia that the Algerians learned of the transfer to Germany of their president, and they wonder if he is still alive, after the death of his sister, Azzi Halima, on October 31 , and that of his son-in-law a few days earlier ”, says Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck. If the causes of death were not disclosed, the president had been placed in solitary confinement a few days earlier because of people infected with Covid in his entourage.
“We did not have a single image of the president. The question of his incapacity is asked. We find ourselves back at square one, at the start of Hirak in spring 2019 with a sick president ”, worries Saïd Salhi. This opacity on the health of the president and on his ability to govern even revives the trauma of 2013, when Abdelaziz Bouteflika was hospitalized for nearly three months in France. The president then never recovered from his stroke. Thus, the Algerians wonder if they are preparing to live again with the framework of an absent President Tebboune.