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Polls opened across Algeria at 8am Thursday (May 10th), with nearly 21 million voters expected to take part in the historic legislative election. Schools serving as polling stations across the nation's 48 wilayas were subject to very high levels of security. No fewer than 60,000 police officers were posted in the areas around polling stations[i].

Algeria's Parliament consists of two Chambers: the People's National Assembly (Lower Chamber) and the Council of the Nation (Upper Chamber). Thursday's elections are for the Lower Chamber[ii].  The two parties in the ruling coalition - the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the National Democratic Rally (RND) - and a new coalition of three Islamist parties are expected to take the lion's share of the vote[iii].

Political Representation

In spite of the important role that Algerian women played in the liberation struggle and in the post-colonial reconstruction, even if recognized in the official speeches, they are however pushed into the background with respect to the participation to decision making and into laws regarding personnel status…[iv]Algerian women made up 8.26% of representatives at the local level (2002-2007).[v]

No woman was a member of the first 9 Algerian Governments. It was only in 1984 that Algeria saw for the first time the appointment of a woman minister. We noted between 1987 and 2002 the emergence of one, sometimes two women, in executive government agencies. We had to wait for the 26th Government, in June 2002 to see 5 women appointed as members of the government. Only one was Minister, and all other four were delegated Ministers (Vice-Ministers). This number even dropped again in April 2006, as only 3 women were members of the Government including one Minister and two Minister Delegates[vi].

Where are the Women Voters?

No legislative or legal provision prohibits or restraints women’s participation in the country political life. Despite the continuous campaigning and lobbying of all political parties to encourage and convince Algerian women to partake in the elections, a recent poll reveals two worrying trends:

  1. a) Women are losing interest in political elections
  2. b) A number of women demonstrated indifference

With one women stating “I will never vote…why should I? I am not even granted my full legitimate rights as a citizen equal to men. “ This lack of confidence and knowledge in the value of a political tool such as the vote is also demonstrated in younger women university and college students.

 

Running for Office

alg_louisa_hanouneHouisa Hanoune is the head of Algeria's Workers' Party (Parti des Travailleurs, PT). In 2004, she became the first woman to run for President of Algeria and is currently attempting to extend her time in office[vii]. The Constitutional Council rejected her first bid for the 1999 presidential election. She ran as a candidate in the Algerian presidential elections of 2004 and 2009. She became the first female candidate to seek office during the Algerian presidential election of 2004.

This event was not only a first in Algeria but in the entire Arab world. Only six candidates were recognized by the constitutional council.

Hanoune was one of eleven candidates who nominated for the 2009 Algerian presidential election. Her platform included defending the principle of national sovereignty and denouncing the policy of liberalization and privatization of public enterprises. She won 4.22% of the vote, coming second out of six candidates.


Opinion Polls

 

Polling Station

Date published

Louisa Hanoune 

Ahmed Ouyahia 

Hocine Ait Ahmed 

Khalida Toumi 

Abdallah Djaballah 

El Watan 

15 March

37.1

25.2

16.0

12.4

9.0

El Khabar 

9 March

31.6

22.4

13.7

15.4

19.3

El Moudjahid 

3 April

36.0

25.5

9.2

19.4

18.6

La Tribune Algérie

14 April

40.2

25.0

11.2

16.3

8.1

Alger républicain 

16 April

38.7

27.6

10.9

17.4

13.0

 

Elections Outcome

First results are not expected until the interior ministry unveils them on Friday. These elections would be different, the authorities promised, but there were many calls for boycotts in the lead-up to the vote.

Early reports in Algerian media on Thursday evening suggested turnout had been low. The government has said a turnout of 45 per cent would be a "success" and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika made a plea to young Algerians to at least cast blank votes rather than abstaining[viii].

Election UPDATE  May 16, 2012

“Algeria has become the first and only country in the Arab world to have more than 30 per cent of its parliamentary seats held by women.”[i] Following parliamentary elections in which Algeria’s two main secular parties have won an unexpected majority in elections for the National People’s Assembly, 145 women will be taking their places in the national legislature.[ii] This makes the national assembly of Algeria the closest the gender parity than any other country in the Arab world.

This huge increase in women’s participation in the legislature is, according to Jemini Pandya at the Inter Parliamentary Union, largely due to the new law instituting a quota system for women candidates on a political party list. [iii] “Women account for 53 percent of the population, 45 percent of magistrates and now control around 32 percent of the national assembly, statistics which place Algeria ahead of Tunisia and Morocco.” [iv]

This puts Algeria ahead of the European Union and the United States.

However, there is still more progress to be made. While the quota list did help to push some of these women to the top of their party lists, many feminists are calling this only the ‘first step’. They now have to prove themselves as politicians and policy-makers.  Nadia Ait Zaid, a jurist who helped to pass the quota law and trained several female candidates throughout the election, insists that not only do women have to prove that they deserved to be there, but that they will have to try to break down the family code law that still exists in Algeria, something that will no doubt prove to be difficult: “They need to create a front that transcends ideologies, a bit like a cross-party parliamentary group.”[v]

As expected, some male candidates argued that women were given an unfair advantage – where some male candidates would have been at the top of their party’s list, they were replaced by women because of the quota law. Male-dominated parties were also accused of placing their daughters or wives on their list just to meet the requirements.

Does lip service equal progress?

Maybe not by itself, but still this is a great leap forward for Algeria and will hopefully set the stage for similar progress in its neighboring countries. MEWC looks forward to following these women who have found their voices as activists, politicians and community organizers.




[iii] Algeria heads to polls in parliamentary elections: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-18016899

[iv] (3) “Comment concilier égalité des droits et lois inspires de Charia en Algérie? » by Sahima Dramchi ; Sisyphe : 25 avril

2009.

[vi] « Mapping of the situation of women participation in politics

in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia» : http://www.womenpoliticalparticipation.org/upload/publication/publication2.pdf

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