Algeria not worthy of our vote, youth say

2012-05-09 09:35

Annaba - Choking with disgust at their political class, many Algerian youths want no part in this week's polls and see leaving the country as the only solution to their despair.

Three quarters of the north African country's population of 37 million is under 35 and few seem won over by the regime's answer to the Arab Spring, namely guarded reforms and a plethora of new parties.

When polling stations for Thursday's legislative election open in eastern Algeria's main port city of Annaba, Hacen will stay home, convinced that none of the 44 parties in the fray can do anything to find him a job or improve his life.

"These sharks will do nothing to guarantee employment and housing for the citizens, and enforce any basic form of social justice," he told AFP.

"These party officials who come wooing us, begging for our votes, they'll all vanish after the polls," said Hacen, a 30-year-old with a teenager's face.

The unemployment rate stands at 15% in Annaba and Hacen has never had a full-time job.

Official voter abstention reached a record 64% at the 2007 legislative polls and this year's campaign suggests even deeper disaffection. Several observers predict the real turnout will hover around 15%.

"They are all corrupt, all they can think about is stuffing their pockets," Abderraouf, an economics student at Annaba University said, seething with rage.

Graft and greed

He argued that the only reasons an Algerian joins a party leadership and runs for parliament are to obtain access to business circles, secure immunity and gorge on public funds.

"They are neither the first nor the last to disappear once they've won their ticket to Algiers and business," said Ahmed, another young Annaba resident.

The country's public - and only - TV channel broadcasts endless footage projecting the image of a paternalistic, caring state but many youths say graft and greed are rife at the top and argue that voting would only condone it.

Sofiane was lucky enough to find a job in the telecommunications sector but offered an equally crabbed view of Algeria's political system and had nothing but bile for the array of candidates running in his city.

"In Annaba, you can find criminals, bar owners and complete illiterates on the party lists," he said.

Anti-graft watchdog Transparency International has ranked Algeria a lowly 112th on its latest corruption perceptions index.

Some scandals have come out in the open, such as one involving the state-run oil and gas giant Sonatrach - Africa's largest company - but the root causes of corruption remain unchallenged.

Many young Algerians who are struggling to make ends meet, whether they have a job or not, fail to understand why a state that has $182bn in foreign exchange reserves cannot do more for them.

"The young people in this country don't have a life. You can only adhere to a state when you think the state is fair. But what's tragic is that promises are never kept even though the state is rich," sociologist Fatma Oussedik told AFP.

Bitter youth

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has spoken out in public to urge young voters to cast a ballot and avoid an embarrassing turnout figure in the 10 May.

Campaigns targeting the youth have been aired on radio stations and television. A dedicated party was even set up: the Youth Party led by a 42-year-old doctor.

Riots over consumer prices broke out in January 2011 when Tunisia's uprising was still young but neither the pull of the Arab Spring nor the regime's fresh promises look set to harness the energy of Algeria's incurably bitter youth.

His back propped up against a wall in a shabby street near his home and surrounded by his friends, Hamid explained his age group had long stopped hoping for a better life in Algeria.

"There's no reason for us to remain in this country, so why vote," he said sourly.

Annaba, which faces the Italian island of Sardinia, is a major launchpad for Algerian youths attempting the perilous crossing to Europe.