Algeria voter apathy could mar legislative election

An Algerian woman walks past an election campaign poster of the Rassemblement National Democratique (RND) party, outside its bureau in the capital Algiers. (AFP)
Updated 02 May 2017

Algeria voter apathy could mar legislative election

ALGIERS: Algerians go to the polls on Thursday to elect a new parliament amid concerns that a low turnout will mar a vote which officials say is necessary to maintain stability.
The election comes as the North African country grapples with a deep financial crisis because of a drop in oil revenues and amid criticism from people who say the government has failed to keep its promises.
In a video uploaded on YouTube days before polling day on May 4 and seen by more than two million people, one Algerian said government vows to solve an acute housing shortage and improve health care have not been kept.
A total of 12,000 candidates are standing for 462 seats in the People's National Assembly, with a registered electorate of 23 million.
Throughout the election campaign officials urged people to vote "massively", saying Algeria's "stability" was at stake, and urged mosque prayer leaders to relay this message to worshippers.
Ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been confined to a wheelchair since a 2013 stroke impaired his speech and mobility, set the tone on the eve of the vote.
In a statement read on his behalf on Saturday he called for a strong turnout, saying it was essential to contribute to "the stability of the country".
Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal urged those angry about the state of the economy "to be patient".
"There is no more money" in state coffers, he admitted in a speech on Saturday, media reported.
In 2011, high oil revenues allowed huge rises in wages and subsidies, helping Algeria to weather the Arab Spring.
But in 2014, the collapse in crude oil prices forced the government to increase taxes and mothball many public projects.
In a country of 40 million, half of them aged under 30, one young person in three is unemployed.
Despite brisk lobbying by Bouteflika's National Liberation Front (FLN) party and its coalition ally, the Rally for National Democracy (RND), the campaign failed to fascinate.
Media reports said people were more interested in the presidential election in former colonial power France, where centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron and far-right rival Marine Le Pen face off on Sunday.
"France is having an election in which the political stakes are high, while here in Algeria there are no stakes at all," sociologist Nacer Djabi said.
Media and analysts expect few surprises on Thursday.
The FLN, which has ruled Algeria under a single-party system from independence in 1962 until the early 1990s, will keep its majority in parliament along with the RND, said political analyst Cherif Driss.
In the 2012 election, the FLN won 221 seats and the RND 70 in the 462-seat national assembly.
Islamists, who hold 60 seats in the outgoing parliament, represent the country's main opposition force.
In 2012, a year after Arab Spring-inspired street protests, Islamists had hoped to replicate the gains of their peers in Egypt and Tunisia, but instead suffered their worst ever electoral defeat.
This year, they have formed two major coalitions in an attempt to do better.
Other contenders include The Rally for Hope in Algeria (TAJ), a new Islamist party led by former public works minister and fierce Bouteflika supporter Amar Ghoul.
The secular Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) boycotted polling in 2012 but is hoping to take seats from its rival, the Front of Socialist Forces (FFS).
Experts say Algerian elections generally fail to attract a high turnout, which in 2012 was 43.14 percent, slightly more than the 35.65 percent registered in 2007.
Even those figures, they say, were inflated.


Innovation, cooperation key to GCC’s economic vitality

The speakers underscored the need for GCC countries to strengthen their economies by continuing to invest in health care and education. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 48 min 49 sec ago

Innovation, cooperation key to GCC’s economic vitality

  • Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate features discussions on pressing geopolitical issues

ABU DHABI: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) could become the sixth-largest economic power in the world by 2030 if it can maintain the same pace of growth and development, according to a senior Bahraini official. Dr. Abdulla bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, chairman of the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (DERASAT), made the remark while speaking at the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate (ADSD) on Monday.
With “Old Power Competition in the New Age” as its theme, the conference has featured an impressive lineup of speakers. The topics for the second and final day were broadly “Power distribution in the Gulf region” and “Repercussions of conflicts on the future of Arab states.”
Al-Khalifa underscored the need for GCC countries to strengthen their economies by continuing to invest in health care and education and boosting the quality of human resources.
On the subject of regional tensions, Al-Khalifa had three likely scenarios, starting with one in which Gulf states become a united political bloc that serves as a “regional center for innovation, entrepreneurship, cooperation and sustainable development.” In the second scenario, a dire fate awaits the region, with terrorism and unrest prevailing over the forces of social and economic stability.
An equally worse-case scenario sees a “static” future, with the GCC region condemned to a prolonged period of unrest and constant interference by regional and global powers in their affairs.
Similar apprehensions were expressed by Mahmoud Jibril, a former prime minister of Libya and president of the National Forces’ Alliance, during a separate panel discussion, “Middle East Power Distribution: Hard, Soft and Artificial.”
Arguing that Israel has emerged as “the main winner” in Middle East conflicts, Jibril blamed the Arab world for not moving in step with “the trends of this era.”

HIGHLIGHT

With ‘Old Power Competition in the New Age’ as its theme, the conference has featured an impressive line-up of speakers.

He said that Israel was the recipient of 21 percent of international investments by technology giants such as Apple, Microsoft and Amazon in their research and development centers.
“Investment channeled to Israel is 200 times as a proportion of the country’s population. These are its source of power,” Jibril said. By contrast, he said, the Arab world has one of the highest budgets for military acquisitions and yet its security environment keeps deteriorating.
Jibril identified three forces that he said are shaping modern history. The first is technologies such as AI (artificial intelligence) and digitalization. The second is youth, which he described as a “game changer” in the region. The third force, according to Jibril, is climate change.
“In the coming years, cities will disappear because of rising temperatures and economies will collapse due to expanding desertification,” he said. “The consequences will be migration and conflict. Unfortunately, these three forces cannot be reversed. At best, their impacts can be mitigated.”
Earlier in the day, Dr. Ebtesam Al-Ketbi, president of the Emirates Policy Center, the ADSD’s organizer, said that the Gulf region is witnessing “fierce competition among states over power redistribution.”
While the region’s security and stability will continue to be among the primary challenges, change will come once a deal with Iran is reached, she said.
“Iran doesn’t have anything to lose at the level of infrastructure,” El-Ketbi said.
“If a missile hits Iran, the country will not lose much but if a missile hits Aramco from Iran, there is a lot to lose.”
Al-Ketbi said that a balance of hard and soft power is crucial for achieving stability in the region. “Having hard power alone leads to wars and acts of sabotage,” she said, evidently alluding to recent incidents in the Gulf, while “possession of soft power alone is not enough for achieving security, especially for the GCC countries.”