Opposition party plans to boycott Algeria’s April elections

Elections are part of reforms laid out in last year’s revised con­stitution, which, on paper, gives more power to opposition.

Algerian opposition leader Ali Benflis

2017/01/22 Issue: 90 Page: 9

The Arab Weekly
Lamine Ghanmi

Tunis - A leading opposition group led by Ali Benflis, the former chief of Al­geria’s ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party, plans to boycott parliamen­tary elections in April, saying the results are a foregone conclusion.

“The deep-seated crisis is very-well known,” said Benflis, who heads Talaie El Hourriyet (Van­guards of Freedom). “We looked for the existing political regime to propose a remedy adapted to the serious consequences of the situ­ation. They are offering a placebo called elections instead.”

The elections are part of reforms laid out in last year’s revised con­stitution, which, on paper, gives more power to the opposition. Under the reforms, the next prime minister will be appointed by the political party winning the most votes instead of being chosen by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Analysts argue that wider sup­port for the elections from influ­ential figures such as Benflis would give new life to Algiers’ leaders, who are battling popular discon­tent over budget austerity and try­ing to boost a struggling economy.

“The upcoming elections ap­pear secondary, derisory and far away from the priorities of the mo­ment,” said Benflis, who finished second behind Bouteflika in the 2004 presidential elections.

“The existing regime focuses only on one agenda, which is its own survival. We have an alterna­tive agenda to rescue the country,” Benflis said.

Said Cheker, an Algerian politi­cal analyst, said: “Benflis and his party seem to bet on a tumble of the regime that might occur soon enough to prevent the regime from staging an election as a new false alibi.”

Benflis, 72, previously served as chief of the FLN, prime minister and head of Bouteflika’s election campaign before breaking with the ruling establishment over disa­greements about the country’s po­litical direction in 2014.

“Our conviction is that our coun­try has to race against the clock as the passing time makes the po­litical, economic and social chal­lenges harder to tackle,” he said. “We are the only responsible ones to step in to face these challenges.”

While leftist and liberal groups share Benflis’ analysis, they are determined to occupy any political space authorities will give them in order to influence the nation’s course. Critics have denounced them as opportunists aiming to make immediate gains.

At least four Islamist groups have said they would take part in the elections to gain official rec­ognition in the country. Analysts, however, said they consider Alge­ria one of the most unlikely places for Islamists to take control, as many in the country blame po­litical Islam for what is referred to as the “national tragedy” of the 1990s. During that period, an esti­mated 200,000 people were killed in a civil war that had Islamist in­surgents fighting the military.

The leftist Democratic and So­cial Movement (MDS) cited the Is­lamists’ return to politics as one of the reasons for participating in the elections.

“Algerian democrats from all po­litical hues are facing a totalitarian regime blighted by corruption,” said Najib Touaibia, a leading fig­ure in the MDS. “The regime is leaning on Islamism from now on to tame and submit the civic soci­ety.”

Some political analysts predict­ed that the upcoming elections are likely to exacerbate popular ten­sion and contribute to voter apa­thy.

Political writer Redha Mahmoud said: “The danger for the coun­try is that rife social disarray and confusion could be transformed into possible misconduct with the helping hand of manipulation. There is a doubt the authorities could handle such risks.”

Algiers University political sci­entist Louisa Ait Hamadouche said the government likely to emerge from the vote could spark protests, as its main message for Algerians will paradoxically be “there is no need for change”.

“Algeria is stranded in the mid­dle of a dual and hybrid system,” Ait Hamadouche said. “We have a society of mostly young people and a political class of septuage­narians. There is rising unemploy­ment with an increasing foreign workforce, financial problems with rampant corruption that is protected and a deteriorating edu­cation system.

“The social front is on track to erupt and the next government’s task will be to contain the popula­tion by convincing them that the solution is ‘no change’,” she added.

The government insists the vot­ing will be fair and free, serving to strengthen the country’s stability and broaden democracy.

Lamine Ghanmi is a veteran Reuters journalist. He has covered North Africa for decades and is based in Tunis.

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