The protesters that make up Algeria’s ongoing Hirak Movement had already announced that they would be boycotting the presidential election held on December 12. In the town of Béjaïa, however, protesters went a step further and prevented polling stations from even opening. The rallying cry across Algeria has been "I won’t twelve-twelve!” – the original in French is “Je ne douzedouzerai pas”, in reference to the date of the presidential election held on December 12.
Tents were pitched so that protesters could spend all night out in the streets.
Our Observer took this photo.
Protesters have been out demonstrating in Béjaïa, a town located 220 kilometres to the east of Algiers, since December 11, the day before the vote. Demonstrators opposed to the election filled the streets, chanting “No election with the thieves!". When night fell, the protesters transformed the event into a sit-in, playing music and thereby giving it a festive atmosphere.
The protests continued into voting day on Thursday. Early in the morning, videos started appearing on social media showing protesters destroying ballot boxes and scattering votes like confetti.
The Hirak Movement had immediately rejected the announcement on October 5 by the interim Algerian president that elections would be held. Of the five candidates, three were former ministers and a fourth formerly served as Prime Minister. As such, this was an affront to protestors, who continue to demand a shake-up of the entire political elite. On Thursday, demonstrations were held all over the country, especially in the capital, Algiers. In Béjaïa, protests had already been going on for several days.
"The withdrawal of the police is already a symbolic victory”Abdelkader (not his real name) grew up in Béjaïa. He has been taking part in the Hirak Movement protests since February last year and went along with the group of demonstrators who shut down polling stations on December 12.
We started working to shut down polling stations a few days ago. Opponents to the election welded shut the door of one school and padlocked the door of another. At another polling station, they constructed a brick wall in front of the gate.
At around 6am on Thursday, we started going around to the rest of the polling stations – including Avicenne High School and Ben Toumert Primary School – and shutting them down one by one. We systematically destroyed the ballot boxes to prevent any risk of fraud or ballot stuffing. We’re not going to let them announce the results of the election in Béjaïa, especially if the results are falsified.
All of the polling stations in Béjaïa were shut down, except for a school located on the outskirts of the town that is right by some military barracks..
We are even more proud of this victory because our mobilisation was peaceful. We also flew the Amazigh [Editor’s note: another name for Berber] flags right next to the Algerian flag to signify that we hadn’t been duped by the government’s attempt to divide us [Editor’s note: Previously, several protestors who had brandished the Berber flag during demonstrations were prosecuted for “damaging national unity”].
'The next president will have no legitimacy in our eyes'
It’s not just in Béjaïa that people are refusing to vote. There have been protests all across Algeria today to denounce this farce. But Béjaïa has a history of organising against the central authorities. We’ve always been an opposition city [Editor’s note: the city is home to several different unions and left-leaning organisations and, in the past few years, there have been quite a few strikes there calling for social and political change]. It’s simple. Not one of the five candidates for president came here during the electoral campaign.
These elections are a provocation and they are yet another reason to continue with our struggle because they’re a farce. The election today is just a speed bump on the road to our revolution. For us, these elections are a non-event because the entire regime needs to go. The next president will have no legitimacy in our eyes.