In Béjaïa, in the north-east of Algeria, no electoral poster displays the streets. “Who would dare to put one up?” “ asks, smirk, Moussa Naït Amara, an activist opposed to the holding of the legislative elections scheduled for Saturday, June 12. The capital of little Kabylia, like the whole of this traditionally rebellious region, is heading for a new ballot without participation.
“The candidates in the trash! “,” Ulac is voting! ” (“No vote”)… In recent weeks, the slogans chanted by Friday demonstrators have set the tone. In Béjaïa, the weekly Hirak marches, an anti-power protest movement that appeared in February 2019, still take place. Less massive, of course, than in previous months. But while the crackdown has won over protests in other cities across the country, including Algiers, several thousand people continue to march through the coastal city.
The opportunity to call for a general strike and to attack the electoral process, as well as all those who decided to participate: “Opportunistic candidates. To have privileges », we read on a sign held up by a protester.
Popular pressure is such that, the day after the weekly march on June 4, a young man on the list of the National Liberation Front, a party that has long monopolized power, announced that he was withdrawing his candidacy. The two parties best established in Kabylia, the Rassemblement pour la culture et la democratie and the Front des forces socialistes, have, for their part, announced that they would not participate in the legislative elections.
The climate is all the more tense given that, in a new attempt to stigmatize the region, believe several Béjaïa activists, the authorities accused, on May 18, the Hirak demonstrations of being infiltrated by the separatists of the Movement for self-determination of Kabylia (MAK), classified as a “terrorist organization” by the High Security Council.
Record abstention in the presidential election
Seventeen lists will compete to win the nine seats granted to this constituency in proportion to the population, according to the National Independent Election Authority (ANIE), a body created in September 2019 to oversee the polls. But as the official campaign ended on Tuesday, June 8, “We did not see them leading meetings or gatherings”, remarks Moussa Naït Amara. “Let these people show off, so that we can debate with them and know why they are showing up!” “
During the presidential election of December 2019, the region recorded an almost zero turnout of 0.18% in Béjaïa and 0.04% in Tizi-Ouzou, the two main wilayas (prefectures) of the region, which “Have around 3 million inhabitants”, explains Reda Boudraa, elected RCD of the popular assembly of the wilaya. At the time, several polling centers had been padlocked, ballot boxes destroyed and ballots strewn on the ground by angry residents.
To prevent such a scenario from repeating itself, the authorities have planned severe penalties. On May 5, the Interior Ministry announced that the perpetrators would be sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years. “Acts of destruction or removal of ballot boxes, interference with the conduct of the ballot and disturbances in voting operations”.
Lately, legal proceedings have been launched against mayors who refused to supervise the presidential election. The city council of Chemini, a town located 50 kilometers southwest of Béjaïa, was summoned by the police on May 26, following a complaint lodged by the wali (prefect) of Béjaïa for “incitement to unarmed gathering through social networks ”.
Mayors dismissed in favor of administrators
“These are intimidations so that we do not get involved in preventing legislative elections”, estimates Mokrane Labdouci, elected at the head of Beni Maouche in 2017. To reach this territory, you have to drive about fifty kilometers from Béjaïa and take a winding mountain road. At an altitude of more than 1,000 meters, the town, which covers nearly 100 square kilometers, is made up of 32 villages, bringing together 18,000 souls.
“We are not affected by these elections”, continues Mokrane Labdouci. The mayors, he explains, are removed in favor of administrators appointed by the ANIE and dispatched to each commune to organize the poll. “I have no contact with the delegate. They do administrative work thanks to an application, but there is nothing in the field, neither preparation of the polling stations, nor notice board ”, adds the city councilor.
Hanging on the walls of his office, black and white photos recall the glorious past of Beni Maouche. One of them immortalizes a march in celebration of the ceasefire of March 1962 with, at the head of the procession, Krim Belkacem, Hocine Aït Ahmed and Mohamed Boudiaf, three major figures in the struggle for independence. “Beni Maouche had 1,014 combat deaths out of a little over 3,000 inhabitants at the time, proudly reminds the mayor. Several hamlets located on the mountain ridges were destroyed by the bombardments of the French air force. There is one that has been rebuilt three times. “ A revolutionary past which does not prevent the marginalization of the region by the central power, according to the population.
In Beni Maouche, the inhabitants live mainly from agriculture, in particular the production of olive oil and dried figs, the quality of which makes the reputation of the region. The potential of the municipality had enabled it to be selected in 2017 by a project of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), consisting in strengthening “Capacities of local development actors”. But out of the ten pilot municipalities initially chosen for this project Co-financed by the Algerian Ministry of the Interior, the European Union and the UNDP, those of Tigzirt and Beni Maouche, both in Kabylia, were dismissed without explanation, explains Mokrane Labdouci.
“We have written to officials several times, deputies put oral questions to the National People’s Congress, but we received no response. The current power is against the development of these municipalities. He wants us to remain in deficit, whereas with a helping hand we could be self-sufficient “, protested the elected, whose budget depends 70% on state subsidies.