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Viewing cable 09ALGIERS370, BOUTEFLIKA REELECTED IN HEAVILY MANAGED CONTEST

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09ALGIERS370 2009-04-13 19:07 2011-01-22 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Algiers
Appears in these articles:
www.spiegel.de
VZCZCXRO5599
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHAS #0370/01 1031912
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 131912Z APR 09 ZDK CTG RUEHNM#3308
FM AMEMBASSY ALGIERS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7347
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHNK/AMEMBASSY NOUAKCHOTT PRIORITY 6738
RUEHNM/AMEMBASSY NIAMEY PRIORITY 1918
RUEHBP/AMEMBASSY BAMAKO PRIORITY 0956
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0544
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 ALGIERS 000370

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/12/2024
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PHUM AG
SUBJECT: BOUTEFLIKA REELECTED IN HEAVILY MANAGED CONTEST

REF: A. ALGIERS 337
B. ALGIERS 331
C. ALGIERS 147

Algiers 00000370 001.14 of 004


Classified By: DCM Thomas F. Daughton; reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: To the surprise of noone, Algerian President
Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected to a third term on April 9
in a carefully choreographed and heavily controlled election
with official results the main opposition leader called
"Brezhnevian." Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni
announced in a press conference on April 10 that a record
74.54 percent of over 20 million eligible voters participated
in the election, with Bouteflika receiving 90.24 percent of
the votes. Opposition parties and defeated candidates have
placed actual turnout figures at between 18 and 55 percent,
while informal Embassy observations indicated that the vast
majority of polling stations were empty across the capital,
with actual turnout at 25-30 percent at most. A joint
statement by observer teams from the African Union, Arab
League and Organization of the Islamic Conference was quick
to proclaim the election "fair and transparent," but UN
monitors declined to participate in the statement despite
Algerian government pressure to do so. Their concerns, to be
presented in a private report to UN Secretary General Ban
Ki-Moon, illustrate a system in which opposition parties and
civil society have their backs against the wall and citizens
have little to do with a political process increasingly
detached from society. With Bouteflika's hold on power
secure, Algeria now faces an urgent need for dialogue between
the population and the state, a situation that left the UN
monitors deeply worried about what comes next. END SUMMARY.

Bouteflika's "crushing majority"
--------------------------------

2. (C) Interior Minister Zerhouni officially pronounced
President Bouteflika the victor in the April 9 election
during a press conference at an Algiers hotel on April 10,
closing the final chapter on the President's bid for a third
term made possible by the November 12 revision of the
constitution that removed presidential term limits. Zerhouni
proclaimed that 74.54 percent of Algeria's 20 million
registered voters had gone to the polls the preceding day,
delivering a landslide victory for the incumbent. After the
final vote tally, Zerhouni said Bouteflika landed 90.24
percent of the vote, followed by Worker's Party (PT)
candidate Louisa Hanoune with a distant 4.22 percent, the
Algerian National Front's (FNA) Moussa Touati with 2.31
percent, El Islah's Djahid Younsi with 1.37 percent, Ali
Fouzi Rebaine of Ahd 54 with 0.93 percent, and Mohamed Said
of the unregistered Party for Liberty and Justice (PLJ) in
last place with 0.92 percent.

3. (C) As many observers here predicted before the election
(ref A), the official turnout figure has stirred more
controversy than the election result itself. Two hours after
the polls closed on election day, Zerhouni put turnout at
74.11 percent, revising the number slightly upward the next
day. State-run television (ENTV) and the pages of the regime
newspaper El Moudjahid ran images depicting crowds of voters
queuing outside Algiers polling stations. But anecdotal
reports of voter activity suggested Zerhouni's figure to be
greatly exaggerated. Some of our local staff noted that the
crowds of voters on state media appeared dressed for cold
weather, while April 9 was generally warm and sunny,
suggesting that officials used archive footage from previous
elections. The opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy
(RCD) charged that at several polling stations, the Interior
Ministry bussed in loyal voters such as plainclothes police
to create an optic that matched the desired turnout result.
xxxxxxxxxxxx told us the polling stations
he visited with a French journalist were almost empty. In
one case, he met an unemployed man who said he was voting
because he was told to present his voter card in order to
obtain a passport. A woman at another polling station told
xxxxxxxxxxxx she was there to visit her daughter, who was a polling
official, but she did not intend to vote.

4. (C) Opposition parties boycotting the election and the
defeated candidates gave turnout estimates ranging between 18
and 55 percent. xxxxxxxxxxxx told us his
party's observers believed 25 percent was a more accurate
turnout figure for the capital, compared to the Interior
Ministry's claim of 64.76 percent. The foreign ministry had
declined to authorize Embassy officers to observe the voting
process, but Embassy personnel informally observed voting at

Algiers 00000370 002 of 004


more than 30 polling stations throughout the capital and saw
only a handful of voters trickling in and out during peak
voting hours. Some employees were able to get informal
statistics from friends or relatives working in polling
stations. At a voting bureau in the CEM Pasteur neighborhood
of central Algiers, 74 of 214 voters cast ballots, a
participation rate of 34 percent. The vote tally counted 48
votes for Bouteflika, 8 for Lousia Hanoune, 5 for Said and
one each for Rebaine, Touati and Younsi. Voters spoiled 10
of the ballots cast, generally considered a "vote blanche" or
protest vote. At another polling station in the same
neighborhood, 85 out of 281 voted with 21 ballots spoiled.
These anecdotal percentages mirrored what the UN monitoring
team told us on April 11 that they had observed. At a vote
count UN monitors attended, 120 of 345 registered voters
participated (34 percent); 75 percent of the votes, they
said, went to Bouteflika and 20 percent of the ballots were
spoiled.

Resigned objections
-------------------

5. (C) Each of the losing candidates expressed public doubts
over official turnout figures, while resigning themselves to
the outcome. Fouzi Rebaine accused the government of
inflating vote figures and said he could easily accept defeat
if the numbers were "real." Rebaine threatened to file a
complaint with the UN instead of Algeria's national election
commission, claiming Algerian institutions connected to the
election lacked credibility. Djahid Younsi described the
election results as nothing short of "miraculous," and
estimated voter turnout was closer to 25 percent. PT
candidate Louisa Hanoune believed she actually won at least
30 percent of the vote, and added that the official turnout
figure made Algeria look like "a banana republic." The
leader of the three-person UN monitoring mission, M.I. Abdool
Rahman, told us April 11 that his mission was "quite certain"
something was not right after receiving many vague
allegations of fraud from opposition parties, but the lack of
detail made it impossible to describe with certainty the type
of fraud and how it occurred. The most detailed example of
vote tampering we received came from an Embassy employee who
observed a phone call in which a polling station worker was
told by an Interior Ministry official to use an inflated
figure for the number of ballots cast during the day. When
the polling station closed, Interior Ministry police
presented the polling station worker with a vote protocol to
sign, featuring a grossly inflated figure and names he simply
had not seen during the day.

6. (C) There were other signs of government efforts to manage
the optics of the process and keep voices of dissent out of
public view. An Embassy officer watched as a soldier in
uniform made a young Algerian scrape boycott posters off the
exterior wall of the FFS party headquarters in Algiers on the
morning of April 10 even before the official announcement of
the results. Taking aim at the RCD's campaign to make April
9 "a day of national mourning," Zerhouni said during his
April 10 press conference that RCD activists would face
justice, particularly for replacing the Algerian flag over
their headquarters with a black flag of mourning. His
statement apparently cleared the path for a commando raid on
RCD headquarters in El Biar, organized by Algiers Mayor Tayeb
Zitouni, who led a small group of young men in throwing rocks
and attempting to scale the RCD walls to seize the black
flag. RCD leader Said Sadi told us on April 11 that the
election result was "Brezhnevian" and that RCD members
succeeded in thwarting the April 10 attack.

Security incidents
------------------

7. (C) There were no major security incidents in the capital
(where an exceptionally heavy security presence was visible)
but there were reports of isolated violence in other regions
across the country. The most serious was a report that a
suicide bomber in the town of Boumerdes (30 miles east of
Algiers) detonated a bomb in a polling station, killing two
police officers. Notably, no voters were harmed in the
attack. In Tamait, in the eastern region of Bejaia, two
opposing political groups created a scuffle near a polling
station that caused an interruption in voting. In Tizi
Ouzou, a group of young Algerians boycotting the election
rushed into a polling station and destroyed three ballot
boxes. When police intervened, one officer was injured by a
Molotov cocktail used by one of the youths during the
confrontation. In Bouira, a group of young men set fire to a

Algiers 00000370 003 of 004


polling station. The local press also reported explosions of
small bombs in Skikda, Tipaza, Tebessa, Tizi Ouzou and Larbaa
Nath Irrathen in the Kabylie region.

A heavily managed affair
------------------------

8. (C) The government's management of pre-election and
election-day activities demonstrated a carefully orchestrated
strategy to control the process by using complicated
procedural rules to maintain the outward appearance of
transparency (ref A). The UN's Abdool Rahman told us on
April 11 that Algeria's legal framework itself provided room
for fraud: "For every concern we raised, the government could
point to a rule in the elecTnQ;g1fEQUxwQ[action,"
he said, adding, "We didn't have many good conversations."
Abdool Rahman and his colleagues said the primary weakness of
the process was the government's credibility as an impartial
actor. He noted there was no role for civil society, or
consultation with stakeholders outside the government or
Bouteflika's administration. Even the institution charged
with hearing complaints from candidates and voters, the
National Commission for the Surveillance of the Presidential
Election (CNES), was formed by the government and its
chairman was appointed by President Bouteflika. "Civil
society should have been in the lead." Abdool Rahman said he
raised these concerns in a conversation with the vice
president of the Constitutional Council, who agreed that
opposition parties should have had more representation in
electoral institutions. Another concern the UN team raised
was that candidates, with the exception of Bouteflika, only
had access to the media during the official campaign period
of March 19 - April 7. Abdool Rahman added that throughout
the election boycotting parties were prohibited from speaking
up. AU observer Calixte Mbari shared the UN concern with
media access: "It's too bad we couldn't be here to see the
pre-campaign media environment," he told us, "that would have
been interesting."

9. (C) Abdool Rahman said his mission was hindered by the
government's effort to control its meetings and use the
mission's presence to convey the official election story. He
noted that outside of his election-related meetings, he met
only with the U.S. and European Union foreign missions during
his visits to Algiers, something he said the government
actively tried to prevent. Abdool Rahman said Algerian
officials forced schedule changes to prevent a meeting at the
Embassy during the team's mid-March visit. He remarked that
an MFA official even attempted to attend an internal UNDP
country team meeting, as well as a private meeting at the
French embassy. "We had to politely tell him no," he said.
At meetings arranged by the government, team member
Tadjoudine Ali-Diabacte said, it was hard to talk to "real"
people. He complained that the team was forced to sit
through a staged civil society meeting in Tizi Ouzou and
listen to canned statements on the election's fairness. We
experienced a similar situation when the Ambassador attempted
to sat meet on April 10 with AU Observer Mission leader
Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique. After
originally agreeing to a 9:15 meeting, the AU team informed
us the meeting was moved to 10:00, the same time Zerhouni was
expected to deliver the election results. We waited for 15
minutes to see Chissano, only to have an MFA official
interrupt the meeting after roughly five minutes to inform
Chissano that he was being summoned to attend Zerhouni's
press event, which ultimately took place at 1130.

Recommendations for the future
------------------------------

10. (C) Abdool Rahman said that his mission would not comment
publicly on the election. He noted that the Department's
April 10 statement expressing "concern" over the election was
"very strong" but added that his team agreed with it. He
said that the UN mission's decision to say nothing clearly
annoyed the MFA. "They put a lot of pressure on us to make a
joint statement with the AU, AL and OIC." Abdool Rahman told
us his team would draft a report for UNSYG Ban Ki-Moon that
would highlight the problems he discussed as well as positive
aspects of the election. Abdool Rahman believed no decision
had been made as to how much of the report might be made
public, or in what form its recommendations would be
transmitted to the Algerians. We advised the UN team that
public criticism was generally counterproductive; however, we
believed that the government would seriously consider
critical comments made in private, even if the criticism was
not welcome. Abdool Rahman suggested that USUN New York

Algiers 00000370 004.2 of 004


might obtain a copy of the mission's report by contacting the
SYG's office directly at some point in the coming weeks.

11. (C) Abdool Rahman predicted their recommendations would
underscore the need to make progress on freedom of expression
and create a more inclusive dialogue between citizens, civil
society and the government. "There has to be some separation
between the government and the administration," he stressed.
He added that a larger domestic observer presence could have
improved the process. Drawing from his experience elsewhere
in Africa, UNDP resrep Mamadou Mbaye commented, "If leaders
can be elected without this essential element, then we would
be worried about the future here." Ali-Diabacte reiterated
his colleagues' remarks, saying "Five years is not a lot of
time; there is a need for dialogue now. I don't see any
alternative."

Procedural bright spots
-----------------------

12. (C) There were good practices to highlight, according to
the UN monitors. Algeria's computerized voter registry was
user-friendly and easily accessible in polling stations. If
they had not done so before the election, Algerians could
present a valid form of identification and obtain a voter
card on the spot. Ali-Diabacte added that polling station
officials were well trained and quick to address voters'
questions. The balloting method itself was simple,
inexpensive and effective. Another important election
dynamic, Abdool Rahman underscored, was the sense of security
and general absence of violence.

Comment
-------

13. (C) The disparity between the official turnout figures
and what the average person saw on April 9 has caused many
people here to scratch their heads at how the government
expected to legitimize such an exaggerated turnout figure.
In an April 12 editorial, the French-language daily Liberte
question whether the inflated turnout wouldn't ultimately
delegitimize the electoral process the government worked so
hard to craft. Rather than showing that Algeria is on a path
toward greater democracy, the commentator feared that April 9
was more reminiscent of a return to Algeria's one-party
system. Meanwhile, while Bouteflika based his third-term
platform on continuity, we have heard hints that he is
unhappy with the status quo and acknowledges a political
system sagging under its own weight (ref C). With civil
society and opposition now on the ropes, Bouteflika's control
over the system appears secure, albeit with no discernible
vision for a progressive political future. Without unveiling
such a vision through dialogue between citizens, civil
society, opposition parties and government, the fate of the
disillusioned 72 percent of Algeria's population under the
age of 30 remains in doubt, and with it, the long-term
stability of the country. As the UN's Mbaye put it, Algeria
is "sitting on a volcano." We will continue to sift for
opportunities to support reform, and should be prepared to
offer our frank but private opinion of Algeria's progress
along the way.
Pearce