The fatwa [religious edict] issued by [Algerian] Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments [Abdullah Ghulamallah] during his latest visit to the Bechar Province [in Western Algeria] was [unexpected]. [The minister] wanted to spare the ruling authorities from [a potential] electoral boycott. [This boycott has become] a nightmare that worries [the authority] and raises questions about the credibility of past elections. Ghulamallah declared that participation in the elections is a religious obligation that should not be neglected. In his opinion, voting is equal to the declaration of “God is Great,” and emphasized that those who do not declare “God is Great” are sinners. [Therefore] to not vote would be to disobey God.
Thanks to the minister’s judgment, we have learned about a new religious right of which we were previously unaware. One should head to the polls, just like a good Muslim should visit the sick and attend the funerals of fellow Muslims. Although he might not have been completely misguided, his reasoning was also not completely valid. As demonstrated by elections held over the last decade, the ballot boxes have become corrupt and debilitated, and are in desperate need of voters. A large portion of [eligible] voters registered in electoral lists have refused to go to the polls to elect their representatives.
Instead of issuing a fatwa to try and ensure the success of next spring’s [parliamentary] elections, the minister should have attempted to diagnose the reasons behind the proposed [electoral] boycott, which has become a common factor in all recent elections. Most people have abandoned their duty and right to choose their representatives in parliament and municipal and state councils. A proper diagnosis of this disease could circumvent the need for religious preaching. Only once this has been done will people of all classes voluntarily head to the polling stations. [There will be no] need for the text-message advertisements that the Interior Ministry has recently become enthusiastic about. [The government-sponsored sermons], for which Ghulamallah’s ministry has recruited all the imams in [Algeria], would then be unnecessary.
The transparency of [the electoral process] alone is not sufficient to produce fair elections and encourage strong participation by the people in the electoral process. Suspicions that would make political partners doubt the final results must be eliminated. Sending invitations to international observers is useless, unless this measure is accompanied by procedures that ensure an impartial administration [of the elections]. Finally, attempts to employ religious discourse - like the minister of religious affairs’ recent act - will not do much to convince the citizens [to vote]. Their best option is still to boycott [the elections].