Thursday 17 April: It is 10:30 PM and the concert of honking cars has been playing for a good hour in downtown Algiers. The “president on wheels” (le Président-roulant) has won. His supporters are not particularly numerous, but they are gesticulating and making as much noise as possible. Most of them continue and pass around the jardin de l`Horloge in their vehicles. An old police commander admonishes the passengers in an official car that insists on parking where he is standing—as if he was invisible and they had the right to crush someone in uniform who was thirty years their senior. The cops put them in their place. During this time, other fans of Bouteflika arrive while setting off fireworks. It is difficult to know which ones are paid and which ones are real aficionados of the President. The “youyous” that one hears are actually coming from a truck that is making laps around the garden. The joy is brazen. Journalists solicit those who are distributing posters of the President, taking photos that are undoubtedly staged, but which might at least have a chance of being sold. None of this is very surprising. The same morning, near Bab El-Oued, a man claimed to be giving instructions in the name of businessman Ali Haddad. He was instructing the fans of the football club USMA to mobilize in order celebrate the victory of Bouteflika. In reality, this predictable spectacle left a bitter taste.
The Election, a Non-Choice
We could justifiably denounce the fraud, the role of the administration, and the repression that accompanied the electoral process. At the same time, the principle Gordian knot of this election is the lack of a credible political alternative. That a discredited pluralism guaranteed a favored position for a candidate of the regime, even if impotent, speaks to the success of the upgrading of the Algerian system
Former Prime Minister Ali Benflis was presented as the principal opponent. Seen from Algeria, and for someone with even a minimal knowledge of Algerian politics, his victory would have been a huge surprise. It would have also signaled a move by the cartel against the president. At the very best, Benflis was a guise used to stage a competitive campaign. At the worst, he was a candidate of the regime disguised as an opponent. The results seem to support the first possibility. The observation is hardly flattering for an insider who is supposed to know the workings of the system. Yet it seems he has long been reduced to a simple alibi.
As for the others, the results were certainly indicative of their actual political weight. The candidate who finished third, Abdelaziz Belaid  is a former member of the National Liberation Front (FLN) who then created his own organization, the Front Al-Moustabkal. The youngest of the candidates has now created his own “renovated” nationalist party. Its slogan—“dialogue, stability, development”—is but a flavorless rehashing of the dominant political speeches. Next came Louisa Hanoune, Ali Faouzi Rebaïne, and finally, Mousssa Touati. The first of these, who was formerly a Trotskyist of the “Lambertist” tendency, fills the necessary requirement of having a female candidate. Outside of election season, she supports the invisible President and vociferates against the threat of foreign interference. Rabaïne is an old candidate of the revolutionary family by heritage. It was his third campaign and yet, he still did not gain more than a Pharaonic .99 percent of the vote. This will not stop him from cashing in on the money promised to candidates that stooped low enough to give their consent to this mise-en-scène of democracy. Last but not least, Touati is a former police officer turned politician. His nationalist/populist/conservative party was distinguished for auctioning off candidatures for legislative elections in 2012. Never one for progressive or profound analysis, Touati explained that the creation of a funds consecrated to divorced women with children represented a danger to the family unit. Clearly he was not moved by the fact that these women, a precarious category of the population, are often homeless.
The bitterness of the elections surely does not come from the non-election of Bouteflika’s adversaries. Each one of them, in one way or another, represented that which is grotesque, redundant, negligible, or worrying about the Algerian political field. They are the reasons for which one remains distrustful of supposed political representatives. With the exception of Benflis, no one predicted that these candidates would actually be elected, not even themselves. The percentage of the vote that the “president on wheels” won is, thus, credible. It is even possible to believe the claim of observers in various voting stations in Algiers, which is that a crushing majority of voters gave their confidence to an old impotent man. In short, his challengers did little to generate enthusiasm.
Abstention As the Only Option?
As has generally been the case in Algeria, the most important figure in an election is the level of participation. Despite its inflation by various means (both legal and illegal), it was officially much lower than it has been in the past. In 2014, this figure was 51.7 percent, in comparison to 74.5 percent in 2009. The critics claim that the numbers are actually even lower—closer between fifteen to twenty percent (a figure that is credible when seen from Algiers, but which cannot be proven in any case). The rate of official participation is thus taken to be an expression of legitimacy that the cartel would very much like to claim for the “president on wheels.” Imperceptibly, by following this reasoning, we enter into the well-known and adventurous art of decoding the mysteries of the political field. Who supported who, and who acted against whom? Did the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) and the enemies of Bouteflika in the “deep-state” send a signal of repudiation? Or, perhaps, it is Toufik who is the big loser of 2014? The questions are posed, the theories circulate, and the uncertainty remains. Whoever would like to loose themselves in these speculations is certainly welcome in the cafes of downtown Algiers.
In any case, taking the official statistics at face value, it seems that eight million votes were cast for Bouteflika—out of twenty million voters. This is not a triumph à la soviétique, as El Watan would like to claim. Far from being capable of mobilizing a power of coercion sufficient to force one hundred percent of the population to vote (akin to the strategy of Saddam Hussein), the badly-viewed cartel is obligated to live with their Presidents, even if they are badly-elected. The enthusiasm of the cartel`s spokespersons to appropriate the support of the “people” reflects the sensitivity of this question. In a typically “Pravdian” style, El Moudjahid gloats about the “remarkable participation” and speaks of a “jest that fills the heart with hope.” This allows the paper to affirm that “because of this, Algeria [becomes] a good example of human rights and democracy.” This would almost be amusing if these negationist commentaries did not deny the defiance of ten million people with an appalling disrespect.
Instead, abstention is always a last resort, a “mode of contestation by default that directly results from the failure of the political class.” Some have taken recourse to more radical measures, but even these become routine. Take, for example, the rioters who sacked the polling stations in the Wilaya of Bouira, an area that has become a kind of specialist in this domain. (If, by chance, you end up in Bouira, you will undoubtedly understand their legitimate discontent). Others, with an unquestionable sense of panache, have been more elegant in their innovation. A special mention here goes to the genie of Bejaia, who ran off with a ballot box, though there is no news on his subsequent activities. In short, regardless of the form of the message, the content remains the same: to vote is to accept the system, and is thus out of the question.
At the same time, if abstention lowers the legitimacy of the “president on wheels,” it does not imply the constitution of an alternative. The fragile political status quo that defines Algeria remains, even if a centripetal movement has emerged resulting of the gathering of those who refuse this election.
For many weeks, the attention of numerous militants and editorialists in Algeria has already turned to the period after the election, to that which should be done once the farce is over, once the proceedings have been ratified, and once the foreign journalists have left. Moreover, it is absolutely vital that the various opposition movements come together to create specific movements with clear political agendas. It seems that this time around, unlike in 2011, partisan organizations and socially oriented movements are creating two separate poles of agreement.
The various parties that called for a boycott of the elections seek to capitalize on this movement of rejection. Bringing together the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) -and Jil Jadid (liberal), as well as certain independent figures (such as former Prime minister Ahmed Benbitour), this diverse coalition is proposing to launch a national conference for a democratic transition. Meanwhile, despite the fact that many of the leaders are relative newcomers, their past proximity to the government hardly works in their favor. Without prejudging the future of this political alliance, one can say that fragmentation has already weakened it, along with the general discrediting nature of the political field. In other words: there is a chasm between claiming the voice of those who abstained from voting, and mobilizing these individuals in a concrete way.
In parallel to the boycotters, several unions and associations are calling for the formation of a “space for civil society, for convergence, struggle, democracy, autonomy, and inclusivity.” Behind this abstract jargon, the idea is to create a grouping that is as large as possible, and to include those who are not directly linked to a political party. Here again, the actors are divided. In addition to the more well known movements like the Autonomous National Union of Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP ), or the Youth Action-Rally (RAJ), there are also dissident fractions of other organizations National Committee for Protection of the Rights of the Unemployed (CNDDC), Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) that comprise this grouping. Whatever happens, communication among groups is increasing, and the aim seems to create efficient alliances and a common platform. If we must recognize the merit of a fourth mandate, we can say that it has helped these political demands to crystallize.
One should also add other collective and individual actors to this list—those who have not yet responded or acted following the election results. The Socialist Forces Front (FFS)has maintained their distance during the campaign, calling neither for participation nor boycott. The oldest opposition party seems to have taken refuge in a prudent stance, which consists of not allowing the cartel to dictate its plans, even as it calls for national consensus. Other personalities also deserve to be mentioned in the post-election, like the reformist former Prime Minister Mouloud Hamrouche, who has recently come out of hiding in order to warn against the risk of destabilization in the country.
In this regard, we should not forget that like the elections themselves, different groups that constitute the cartel will also play a role in decision-making during the period after the election. A constitutional revision is already on the agenda, with the probable introduction of the position of vice-president (and thus an official dauphin). The presidency will not give up the throne. Even on wheels, the man supported by an entourage (which increasingly resembles a band—Saïd, Belkhadem, Sellal, Ghoul, Benyounes, Saïdani…) is determined to die while in power, and even to designate his successor. The charming smile that once masked an icy stare has disappeared. From now on, his enemies within and outside the regime should remain on guard.
[This article was originally published in French on Jadaliyya and translated by Muriam Haleh Davis.]
 Le Quotidien d`Oran, 21 April 2014.
 A major French newspaper, Le Monde, always well-informed, first confused him with the Minister of the Interior, Tayeb Belaïz. In this regards, the coverage of the Algerian elections by the French media was again deplorable, parroting the administration that has found nothing better to do than continually broadcast alarmist messages.
 El Watan, 19 April 2014.
 El Moudjiahid, 18 April 2014.
 Louisa Dris-Aït Hamadouche, “L’abstention en Algérie: un autre mode de contestation politique,” L’Année du Maghreb, V, 2009, p. 263-273.
 Layla Baamara, “(Més)aventures d’une coalition contestataire: le cas de la Coordination nationale pour le changement et la démocratie (CNCD) en Algérie,” L’Année du Maghreb, VIII, 2012, p. 161-179.