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A chat on Algerian democracy A chat on Algerian democracy
by Joseph Gatt
2019-03-20 10:45:59
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Over the last few days several Algerians have asked me my opinion on how to fix the political system. In this brief article, I will explain that Algeria, just like any other democracy, needs four things in its political system: competitive elections, bigger budgets, a legal framework, and politicians with a communication strategy.

Right now in Algeria elections are not competitive. Government institutions have no budgets and politicians have very low formal pay. There is no known or official legal framework. And most politicians do not have a communication strategy.

alg001_400To be able to hold competitive elections you need political parties and politicians who can fundraise. There is no fundraising culture in Algeria, but without funds, there are no political parties. Of course Algeria does not have the traditional conservative-liberal structure because there is no private sector. Most parties are based on religious or regional affiliations, and tend to have religious or regional platforms. The problem with religious platforms is that social aspects of policy tend to be favored over economic aspects, while the problem with regional politics is that the development of one region tends to be favored over the rest of the country.

So do you use a parliamentary system, a presidential system or a federal system which favors local government? All Arab nations use a presidential system, the kind of presidential system that reconciles regional and religious factions, but unfortunately with presidential systems, if one region or religious faction offends to president, that region or religious faction loses its privileges.

A parliamentary system or a federal system can work if you have budgets, legal frameworks and communication strategies. With restrained budgets, the presidential system is the least worst system for lack of a better expression.

The reason competitive elections are important is that in a competitive system, politicians tend to work hard to seek budgets, legislate and have communication strategies that enable their reelection in politics. But in the absence of competition politicians don't work hard to seek budgets for their institutions, don't bother legislating and don't bother communicating.

Now to budgets. Because political offices in Algeria have such low budgets, politicians often try to find alternative budgets and alternative financing options. They start businesses, take commissions from businesses, or find other ways to make money.

The idea with a budget is that you start small and you grow as time goes by. The main problem around the world, including in Western democracies, is that you need to get people to work together and to brainstorm ideas on how to get political budgets and the economy to grow. Unfortunately, because of the competitive nature of politics, political offices often refuse to discuss growth strategies together.

Now to legislation. You need a strong, self-interested private sector to be able to legislate. The private sector tends to know what kind of laws can help it grow or what kind of laws is hindering their growth.

Legislation has two enemies in politics: politicians who don't know what the legislations are, and politicians who invent legislations that don't exist in the system. So you need politicians who know what the legislations are and who stick to the accurate laws and legislations. And you need an independent justice system that applies the law somewhat textually. The problem is, just like in any country, you often have people who threaten employees of the justice system and in the end laws are not always applied textually.

Finally, you need a communication strategy of some kind. Different politicians have different communication strategies. Some like to mix with the local community by going to any event advertised in town, such as weddings, funerals, festivals and other events. You have those who tend to be more shy but like to communicate with citizens via mail, email or social media. You have those who use television, those who knock on people's doors, those who hold open events for citizens.

The goal of communication is to fundraise, to communicate on upcoming events, on new laws, on how the budget is being used, and also to take suggestions from citizens and to hear what the citizens have to say.

All that mentioned above is part of what is called “political culture.” Unfortunately in the developing world there tends to be no competitive political culture, no fundraising culture, no budget management culture, no strategies for budget growth and a complete absence of political communication, along with vague or non-existent laws and legal systems.

But let me be blunt. Algerians want a demagogue. A president who is young, handsome, charismatic, with populist speeches, who acts like he cares about the average person. Algerians want to say “we have a great president!” They tend not to bother with the rest of the political system.

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