By Becky Zelikson
Former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune won the election with 58.15% of the vote. However, the election saw the lowest voter turnout in Algeria’s history, with some sources reporting 40% of eligible voters voting, and others citing numbers as low as 8%. The incumbent, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had served as President for 20 years, was forced to resign earlier in 2019 after mass pro-democracy protests opposed his plan to run for a fifth term in office.
Algeria has a bicameral parliament, a Prime Minister who is Head of Government, and a President who is the Chief of State and serves a five-year term. In 2016, the parliament revised the Constitution to reintroduce a two-term limit per president, and require the President to consult the parliamentary majority when appointing a Prime Minister. Nevertheless, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had held the seat since 1999 was allowed to seek reelection in 2019.
After Bouteflika withdrew from the race, the 2019 presidential election presented voters with a choice between five candidates: former prime ministers Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Ali Benflis, former culture minister Azzedddine Mihoubi, former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrine, and Abdelaziz Belaid, head of the El Mostakbal Movement party. All five candidates had political ties with Bouteflika's regime, and agreed that no foreign observers will be allowed during the election. Since the choice of president did not include any anti-establishment candidates, many voters decided to boycott the election. There were no female candidates, and some of the male candidates were far from progressive when it comes to women’s rights. For instance, candidate Bengrine stated that he will work to end “women’s celibacy”, and that women should “discover the joys of marriage,” even by becoming a man’s third or fourth wife.
Women’s Political Participation
Algeria has been a state party of CEDAW since 1996, but continues to resist Articles 2, 15 and 16 due to perceived conflicts in relation to Algeria’s family laws and cultural practices, which prevents its full implementation. Algeria has also signed the Maputo Protocol in 2003, and ratified it in 2016. While Algeria has not adopted a National Action Plan for the implementation of UNSCR 1325, the National Algerian Parliamentary Caucus put UNSCR 1325 at the core of its operational by-laws and yearly action plans that fundamentally work towards achieving gender equality. Algeria ranked 100th out of 162 countries on the UNDP Gender Inequality Index in 2018.
Since 2012 Algeria has had legislated gender quotas for its Lower House. The quotas vary between 20% and 50% of candidates, depending on the number of seats in each electoral district. At present, 25.76% of Members of Parliament are women. The quotas do not apply to the Upper House, nor to the presidency.
In the previous three presidential election, Louisa Hanoune of the Workers Party (PT) stood as the only female candidate for president. However, in September 2019, Hanoune was arrested and tried by the military court for “conspiracy against the military” after she had expressed concerns of a potential military coup in response to the ongoing mass protests. She has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, and while others arrested on the same charges have been released, Hanoune remains in prison as of January 2020. Zohra Drif, the Vice-President of the Council of Nations has called Hanoune’s imprisonment “an act of criminalization of political action, a blatant attack on multiparty politics and the free exercise of politics”. Drif and others have been calling for Hanoune’s release and acquittal.
Although no women ran for president in this election, women were pivotal in the protests against the ruling elite and the call to boycott of the election. Women’s substantial presence and organization of the protests was credited with the decline in influence of the Islamist extremists in Algeria, as well as with the lower rates of violent outbursts. Demonstrators were reported to be calming each other down and ensuring that no one provokes police. Women’s rights activists who participated saw the struggle for a better democracy as synonymous with the struggle for women’s rights. Activist Wassyla Tamzali said of the demonstrations: “This is an absolutely magnificent gift to women and feminists. One sees a synergy between the important struggles for liberation of women and for democracy. From my point of view these struggles are the same.”
Algeria’s 2019 presidential elections were nothing short of controversial. Algerian civil society had boycotted the election, since all candidates were affiliated with the ruling elite and military. Nevertheless, the election proceeded as scheduled, with former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune being elected as president with 58.15% of the vote. He was elected by only an estimated 20% of eligible voters. There were no female candidates for president. Louise Hanoune, the only woman to have previously run for president had been arrested by the military regime and spent the entire election season in prison. Nevertheless, women were not absent from this political moment. Women’s organizations and individual women’s rights activists were seen en masse on Algeria’s streets during all of 2019. They have been protesting for democracy, against the long-standing regime, and calling a boycott of the election. The movement they have built is continuing to fight for democracy at the time of writing. As such, Algeria’s women have decided to exercise their political