Habib Brahmia, 28, inspired by Soufiane Djilali, the founder and chairman of the new Algerian opposition party Jil Jadid (“New Generation” in Arabic), was drawn into politics six months ago.
“Unlike the ageing politicians who have been ruling the country since [Algerian] independence, [Djilali] encourages youth empowerment,” Habib, who now works as 55-year-old Djilali’s chief of staff, told Al Jazeera. According to Jil Jadid’s official website, the party has no formal platform, but rather aims to create one through collaboration with all its members; the party currently holds no seats in the national assembly. “We don’t need any youth section since the young volunteers are considered as full-fledged members of the party,” the website states.
With 70 percent of Algeria’s 37 million people under 30 years of age, the young generation may be a game-changer in the April 17 presidential election. And Algerian parties are taking notice.
Algeria’s current governing coalition is targeting young people: the National Rally for Democracy (RND) reserves a third of national executive committee seats for young party members, said Adel Bouchenine, 27, a leader of the RND youth section in Algiers. Bouchenine is campaigning for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s re-election.
don’t feel that they can fit in the archaic organisations, inherited from the independence period and dominated by the entrenched old guard since then.”]
“The 18-to-30-year-olds have always been the least enthusiastic voting group in Algeria,” Nacer Djabi, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Algiers, told Al Jazeera. Less than two percent of Algeria’s total population belongs to a political party, which means that a very small minority of Algerian youth are involved in politics, Djabi said.
According to the Ministry of Interior, less than 43 percent of more than 20 million registered voters cast a ballot in the last general election, held in May 2012. “They don’t feel that they can fit in the archaic organisations, inherited from the independence period and dominated by the entrenched old guard since then,” Djabi explained. “Besides, young members have usually no other choice than playing secondary roles.”
Young people in Algeria grew up during a period of extreme political lethargy, marked by three consecutive five-year terms with Bouteflika in power.
Bouteflika’s main challenger for the presidency, Ali Benflis, the former leader of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), has targeted voters under 25 on and off university campuses, and has hired unionists, student leaders and activists to help him. “We must be patient and repeat the same message over and over. When they tell me that ‘there is no point in voting’, I tell them ‘use your vote, otherwise others will use it’,” said Walid, a young Benflis supporter and campaign staff member, who did not give Al Jazeera his last name.
The 21-year-old student, who holds a double degree in economics and accounting, is convinced that only voting can bring about change in Algeria. “Both the opposition parties’ call for the poll boycott, and the grassroots, anti-system demonstrations will lead to a perilous crisis. I don’t want my country to become a new Syria or Ukraine,” Walid said.
Ahmed Shelby, the 25-year-old co-founder of the “17 avril 2014” Facebook page, which has called for a massive electoral turnout, agreed. “Only a strong turnout can bring real political change in Algeria. The more people vote, the more chances we will have to end [the] Abdelaziz Bouteflika regime,” Shelby, who supports Benflis, told Al Jazeera.
To get youth votes, some of the six presidential candidates have introduced social media strategies. “This is a first in Algerian history,” Samir Bellik, an Algerian digital marketing expert, told Al Jazeera. “Considering the recent boom of the social networks in Algeria, especially Facebook, and the 3G network’s introduction last December, the candidates have had to build a digital strategy.”
|President Bouteflika’s campaign believes word-of-mouth is still the best way to gain voters’ support [Reuters]|
Benflis – who has the most active online presence of all the candidates – has shaped his cyber-strategy based on US President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, Nazim Zaioueche, a senior Benflis adviser and former CEO of the government-owned oil company Sonatrach, told Al Jazeera.
But not all of Algeria’s presidential candidates fully embrace online technology. “The candidates use social media as they have been utilising the mainstream media. They only seek to quickly and widely spread information, but not to interact with the users, [or] to target specific voters groups,” Bellik said.
Nor is everyone convinced that social media is necessary for a successful campaign. Bouchenine, campaigning for Bouteflika’s re-election, said word-of-mouth is still the best method to gain support. “These are quite elitist tools given Algeria’s weak Internet penetration rate,” Bouchenine said.
Moussa Touati, chairman of the conservative Algerian National Front (FNA) and one of the presidential candidates, agreed. “Door-knocking is still the best method since only 14 percent of Algeria’s total population has access to Internet,” Touati told Al Jazeera.
According to Louisa Dris Ait Hamadouche, a political science professor at the University of Algiers, despite appeals to young voters, there will likely be a significant decrease in voting among young people in April. “For years, Algeria’s corrupt governments have been trying to buy social peace… using oil revenues. As result, most Algerian citizens became apathetic,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Now, the young cohort doesn’t dream of ruling the country,” Hamadouche said. Indeed, in poor rural regions of the country, a lack of of employment has prompted some Algerians – particularly young people – to look beyond the country’s borders for opportunities, according to the International Organization for Migration. “[Young people] have only one preoccupation: leaving.”