Returning the aging and ailing Abdelaziz Bouteflika to the presidency for a fourth term, the April 17 elections in Algeria delivered few surprises—much to the relief of the United States, France and the Algerian economic and political elite. At the same time, some Algerians questioned the legitimacy of the electoral process, whether by staying home in large numbers or through violent clashes in Kayblia, the Berber region in the northeast.
Bouteflika’s supporters at home and abroad repeatedly underlined the necessity of stability in Algeria, a country with violent Islamist movements in the Sahara and one that suffered an exceedingly bloody civil war in the 1990s. His opponents have largely criticized the electoral process as unfair, government institutions as determinedly opaque and entrenched economic interests as wholly unwilling to share oil rents more broadly.
These political platforms—stability versus institutional reform—had surprisingly little to say to most Algerians about the concrete challenges facing the country. A participation rate of scarcely 50 percent makes it difficult to give credence to the claims of Ali Benflis, the main opposition candidate, that the elections were a “theft of popular will.” If that were the case, then the nearly 50 percent of voters who stayed home saw that theft as happening well before voting even occurred.