On May 4, 2017, Algerians will head to polling stations to choose their new members of Parliament. On Feb. 4, long-serving President Abdelaziz Bouteflika issued an executive decree calling on the electorate to convene for the parliamentary elections. The decree also called for revising the voter registration list and allowing new voters to register for the upcoming elections. According to the Algerian Interior Ministry, 21.8 million Algerians were registered to vote in the 2014 presidential elections, and the estimated number for 2017 is 23.3 million registered voters.
Algerians will be electing members of the lower house of the bicameral Algerian Parliament, the People’s National Assembly (Al-Majlis al-Shabi al-Watani). They will also be electing members of municipal and state councils, who will in turn elect two-thirds of the members of the upper house, the Council of the Nation (Majlis al-Oumma). Both chambers are an integral part of the legislative process in Algeria, especially after amendments to the constitution in 2016 expanded their powers to propose laws, question Cabinet ministers, and dismiss the prime minister.
Over the past couple of weeks, the Algerian government has been stepping up its preparations and issuing the necessary guidelines and executive decisions for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
This election will be the fourth under Bouteflika’s tenure and the first after the constitutional amendments of 2016.
The parliamentary elections will be overseen by an independent electoral commission as per Article 194 of the constitution. President Bouteflika issued a decree in August 2016 identifying the roles, responsibilities and composition of the electoral commission.
This was followed by another executive order appointing the 410 members of the commission, who are divided evenly between judges and nonpartisan, unelected civil society figures. The independent electoral commission will oversee all steps of the electoral process for the next five years’ local, national and presidential elections, as well as any referenda. Even though there is a formal process for domestic or foreign groups to observe elections in Algeria, the independent commission through its members and agents is responsible for receiving any complaints from voters and candidates and referring them to the appropriate authorities.
Nonetheless, if the 2017 parliamentary elections are similar to the 2012 parliamentary and 2014 presidential elections, they will also witness a small number of foreign observers from the United Nations, European Union, African Union and the Arab League. In addition, in 2012 and 2014 the Algerian government allowed foreign NGOs like the Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute to observe the elections.
For the elected bodies on the state and national levels, Algeria uses a proportional representation system with a minimum threshold for entry. In the municipal and state council elections, the threshold is 7 percent, while for the People’s National Assembly it is 5 percent.
The Council of the Nation, however, is indirectly elected by the people, with two-thirds of its members elected by and from elected members of the municipal and state councils. According to Article 119 of the constitution, members of the Council of the Nation serve a six-year term, and half of its members must be renewed every three years. The council is composed of 144 members. Two-thirds – 96 senators, two from each Algerian wilaya (state) – are elected by a majority system. The other third – 48 senators, one for each wilaya – are appointed by the president.
The People’s National Assembly, on the other hand, consists of 462 seats elected for five years using a closed-list proportional system where political parties and independents can field candidates equivalent to the number of seats allocated for each electoral district. The 2016 electoral law allocates at least one electoral district for each state, though heavily populated states could be allowed more districts.
In addition to the 48 national districts, there are four districts of two seats each for Algerians abroad.
The proportional list system and seat allocations follow the largest remainder method with a 5 percent threshold. The electoral coefficient is calculated by dividing the number of votes cast over the number of seats allocated for the district.
The resulting number is then used as the basis for distributing the seats among the lists that pass the threshold, starting with the highest integer to the lowest, then from the highest remaining fraction to the lowest. In the case of a tie between two lists or more over the last seat, the list with the youngest candidate wins.
In addition, a 2012 law promoting women’s participation in local and national politics established a quota for women at between 20 and 40 percent of a list’s candidates, depending on the number of seats allocated to each district. This number is raised to 50 percent for the seats allocated to Algerians abroad.
There was a steep rise in women parliamentarians from 7.7 percent in 2007 to over 31 percent (146 seats) in 2012. This made Algeria the only Arab country that has women constituting over 30 percent of its parliamentary representatives. The main reason for that big increase was the positive discrimination advocated by the Algerian government for women in politics.
Any Algerian citizen who is 25 years or older, in possession of full civil and political rights (excluding, for example, convicted felons), and having conducted or been exempted from their military service can run for election. However, certain categories of public servants are barred from running for elections up until a year after leaving office. Article 91 of the 2016 electoral law identifies these categories as: judges, members of the armed and security forces, governors, senior administrative and municipal officials, ambassadors and consular generals.
Since the Algerian electoral system does not allow individual seats, any prospective candidate must run as part of a party or independent list. Article 94 of the 2016 electoral law outlines three ways a list can be accepted to run in a certain district.
Any party list or coalition of parties that received more than 4 percent of the votes in the district in the previous legislative election is accepted, as are political parties that have at least ten parliamentarians in the district. New political parties and independent lists must collect 250 signatures per seat from the electorates in the district; the number of signatures decreases to 200 for independent and party lists abroad.
Algerians earn the right to vote when they turn 18 as long as they have not committed any of the violations stipulated in Article 5 of the electoral law. These include convicted felons (unless they have been rehabilitated), those whose money has been confiscated by a court ruling or filed for bankruptcy, and those who behaved counter to the interests of the country during the Algerian Revolution.
However, citizens must also register to vote in their current state of residence or diplomatic mission abroad. This means that the announced number of registered voters might not include all Algerians who are at least 18 years old, as some citizens may decide not to register themselves.
In the 2012 parliamentary elections, the National Liberation Front (FLN), headed by Bouteflika, won the majority of seats in Parliament with 208 out of 462 seats in the People’s National Assembly and 44 out of 144 in the Council of the Nation.
However, it was not enough to form a government on its own and had to join forces with the National Rally for Democracy (RND), led by former prime minister and current chief of staff Ahmed Ouyahia.
RND came second in the 2012 legislative elections with 68 seats.
Three Islamist groups consolidated their efforts under the Green Algeria Alliance. The coalition included the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP or Hamas), the Islamic Renaissance Movement (MRI or Ennahda), and the Movement for National Reform (MRN or Islah). Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, where Islamists won majority seats after the 2011 Arab uprisings, the coalition in Algeria received only 49 seats, down from 60 seats in the 2007 elections.
The Islamists’ poor performance has been attributed to many reasons, including the FLN’s consolidation of power and bitter memories of Islamist groups’ role in the 1990s civil war in Algeria.
For the 2017 election, the Interior Ministry anticipates that 69 of the 71 registered political parties in Algeria will participate, and the campaign period will run between April 9 and 30. According to Article 95 of the electoral law, the electoral lists must be announced 60 days before election day – that is, by March 5.
These lists of candidates are deemed final unless denied by the electoral administrators. In this case, the denied candidates or lists of candidates can appeal to the administrative court, which issues its final decision within five days.
The upcoming parliamentary elections will be an important milestone for Algeria as it struggles with low oil prices, a strained economic situation, youth unemployment and an ailing president.
The elected representatives and the executive branch must tackle these impending challenges. The latest attempts at legal reforms and the 2016 constitutional amendments could be seen as a step toward more openness and transparency – but with a growing population and declining economic resources with which to sustain social peace, the stakes are high for the country’s political class.
Ahmed Morsy is a researcher on the Middle East and a doctoral candidate at the School of International Relations, University of St. Andrews. Follow him on Twitter @ASMorsy. This commentary first appeared on Sada, an online journal published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (www.carnegieendowment.org/sada).
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 06, 2017, on page 7.