Businessman and activist Rachid Nekkaz, unable to submit his candidacy for president is offering up his cousin and namesake in his stead in an attempt to circumvent Algeria’s electoral laws.
By Sydney McCourt
Rabat – Forty-seven-year-old Rachid Nekkaz attempted to register in Algiers on Sunday for the 2019 presidential election with the Constitutional Council. But, a few hours later, it was not Nekkaz but another man of the same name who announced his candidacy to the press.
This other Rachid Nekkaz, a mechanic by trade, is none other than the cousin and namesake of the original Nekkaz. In a Facebook post, (the better known) Nekkaz detailed his surreal plan.
He made it clear that his cousin’s candidacy is a “Plan B,” implemented after the Constitutional Council refused to validate his candidacy on the basis of 2016 constitutional reforms which blocked any candidates who had ever held a nationality other than Algerian.
Nekkaz proceeded to outline the timeline of his ideal political scenario. First, the Constitutional Council must validate his cousin’s candidacy on March 13. At that time, Nekkaz would officially become his cousin’s campaign manager. Second, if his cousin is elected, the cousin would immediately seek a parliamentary vote to create the position of vice president which Nekkaz would occupy.
Finally, his cousin would step down as president-elect, allowing Nekkaz to take over what he believes is his rightful position.
Nekkaz explained that “the meaning of my cousin’s candidacy is symbolic, just as Bouteflika’s candidacy is symbolic.” The campaign is an attempt to maintain pressure on Abdelaziz Bouteflika as he runs for a widely-contested fifth term.
Nekkaz is one of the most outspoken opponents of Bouteflika. He has marched in numerous protests, and in February was beaten and violently thrown out of a protest by police forces.
Notoriety as an activist
Nekkaz gained recognition largely from his activity across the Mediterranean, in France.
He dedicated himself to the defense of women in France who wore the burqa. He founded an organization called “Do Not Touch My Constitution” (Touche Pas a Ma Constitution) which pledged to pay the fine of any women arrested for wearing the burqa in public.
Nekkaz is also known for political stunts. On one occasion, he dumped 10,000 €1 coins in front of the Socialist Party Headquarters to protest the €1 membership fee required of activists. On another, he bought the endorsement of the mayor of Noron-la-Poterie in an auction and proceeded to tear it up on live television to protest the practice of buying endorsements which he viewed as giving “a bad image to democracy.”
Such stunts and activism have made Nekkaz particularly popular among young people in Algeria. When he was travelling throughout Algeria to collect the necessary 60,000 signatures for his candidacy in the months leading up to 2019, he attracted crowds of supporters. Nekkaz engages with his supporters regularly on Facebook where he has more than 1.5 million followers.
Nekkaz’s political past
The 2019 election is by no means Nekkaz’s first foray into the political scene. It is the third time and second country in which Nekkaz has failed in a bid for presidency.
In 2007 Nekkaz attempted to run for president in France but was only able to acquire 13 of the necessary 500 endorsements.
Following this failed attempt, Nekkaz created his own political party to run in the 2007 legislative elections. Running in the 7th district of Seine-Saint-Denis, he won only 156 votes—0.5 percent of the ballot. Undeterred, Nekkaz ran again in the 2008 municipal elections but lost despite promising €300 to every voter if he were elected.
In 2014, Nekkaz turned his gaze from France to Algeria. He gave up his French nationality and announced a bid for president of Algeria.
In a blog post on the site for his organization “Don’t Touch My Constitution,” he explained his decision to renounce his French citizenship and claim only his Algerian identity: “‘Between my mother and my motherland’ I chose my mother because at the end of 41 years, France has succeeded in making me … a Stranger.”
In lead-up to the 2014 election, Nekkaz faced defeat once again when the Constitutional Council rejected his candidacy. He claims to have collected 62,000 signatures but they were stolen from within the Council.
This 2019 bid for president with his cousin as proxy, unusual as it may appear, falls in a line with the actions of a man seemingly willing to do anything to achieve his goal of holding public office.
All of this comes amidst the country-wide protests which have broken out in opposition to sitting president Bouteflika’s decision to run for a fifth term.