Algeria will hold parliamentary elections on Thursday. This cycle has been characterised by a relentless push to boost voter turnout, to the extent that non-voters have been chastised as “dishonest” and “unfaithful” by both authorities and the Islamist opposition.
The 2010 election was mired by a Facebook-organised boycott, resulting in a historic low turnout—a dismal 43%. Across the spectrum, both the opposition and establishment want to reverse this trend and restore the legitimacy of the current status quo. Having held power for 55 years, President Bouteflika’s FLN has little appetite to reform an electoral system that has served it so well. This has generated disillusionment among many Algerians, particularly young people.
Algeria also faces a widening rural-urban divide—an endemic feature of developing nations. In rural electorates, Salafist Islamists poll strongly. This despite dismantlement of the main Salafist party, the Islamic Salvation Front, in 1992. It’s doubtful that Thursday’s vote will produce major upset such as sweeping reforms or an Islamist resurgence. But given the upheaval in some parts of the Arab would in recent years, the divisive undercurrent is disconcerting.