If enemies of rigid, one-party political regimes want to create a powerful visual message to highlight their grievances, they don’t have to resort to written slogans or powerful political cartoons – all they have to do is circulate the real-world photograph of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, wheelchair-ridden, casting his ballot Thursday.
Although one political party has dominated the scene for decades, Algeria has also benefited – in terms of public perception – from seeing several presidents come and go without bequeathing power to their children, and without being jailed or killed after their terms ended.
But this week’s presidential election, topped by the sight of the ailing, 77-year-old Bouteflika wheeled in to vote for his fourth term, represents a huge step backward for the country of a million martyrs.
No one can deny that Bouteflika’s credentials, as a symbol of the drive for independence against France, qualify him to run. But he has already served three terms as head of state, and for the Algerian political system to recycle him for another five-year term is an insult to two significant sections of Algeria’s population: Those who were around for the independence-era struggle, and the many young people today who know their rulers have no respect for their point of view.
At a time of huge political, economic and security challenges, polls with preordained results are no way to inspire the public. In his last public appearance before the vote, Bouteflika said: “My generation has served its time,” but as usual, the rhetoric turned out to be empty, and not indicative of true change.
No one should be surprised by the frustration, anger and despair in Algeria in the wake of its latest electoral “achievement.”
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 19, 2014, on page 7.