Islamists to join Algeria cabinet despite poor results

Sunday 21/05/2017
‘Entryism.’ Abdelmadjid Menasra (L) leader of the Algerian Front for Change (FC) party and Abderrazak Makri, general secretary of the Movement for the Society for Peace (MSP), at a news conference in Algiers, on May 6. (AFP)

Tunis- Algeria’s leaders have turned to factious Islam­ists to form a coalition government, even after the election results in­dicated the Islamists’ participation was not needed.

In theory, Algerian President Ab­delaziz Bouteflika should have be­gun the coalition-building process by selecting a prime minister, who would consult with leaders from other parties to form a government. Current Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal should have been confined to his role as caretaker of the govern­ment, as stipulated by the constitu­tion.

However, Abderrazak Makri, general secretary of the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), an­nounced on Facebook that Sellal, acting as an emissary of Bouteflika, had proposed including the Islamist MSP in the next government.

The Bouteflika-led National Lib­eration Front (FLN) and the Demo­cratic National Rally, headed by presidential Chief of Staff Ahmed Ouyahia, won a combined 264 of the 462 parliamentary seats in the May 4 election.

Makri’s group, which is the Alge­rian branch of the Muslim Brother­hood, took 33 seats. Some 30 oppo­sition parties and coalition groups shared the rest, with the leading secular parties, Socialist Forces Front (FFS) claiming 14 seats, and Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) winning nine.

Analysts interpreted Bouteflika’s move as a continuation of the politi­cal status quo and to broaden pop­ular support for the government. They said they expected the gov­ernment to extend Sellal’s tenure and endorse his plan to diversify the economy from its reliance on oil and gas, which account for more than 95% of Algeria’s total export sales.

They said reaching out to the MSP appeared to be Bouteflika’s only vi­able option to form a government. The principle of “entryism,” a key part of the MSP’s ideology, has mo­tivated its leaders to pursue a place in government.

The participation of Islamists would broaden the Algerian govern­ment’s base following a historically low voter turnout — 35% compared to 43% who voted in the 2012 elec­tion. Algerians further registered their discontent by spoiling their ballots as part of a mass protest. Out of the country’s 8.6 million voters, 2.1 million spoiled their ballots or returned the papers blank.

“The regime, when its back was to the wall, resorted to honey jars in the face of a legitimacy crisis, with the awareness that most of the po­litical class have an excessive taste for government positions and other privileges,” wrote El Watan newspa­per commentator Omar Berbiche.

“They (the leaders) showed no embarrassment with their ap­proach, even when they trespassed the constitution to pass the pill of the parliamentary elections and push away the spectre of a political crisis,” he added.

“The need of a government of cri­sis and new political blood to face the challenges looming ahead for the country would have to wait, as usual.”

MSP leaders were divided on whether to take part in the gov­ernment, with Makri opposed and Abou Jarra Soltani, another party leader, in favour.

“Entryism is fundamental to the party doctrine,” Algerian political analyst Adlene Meddi said of the MSP. “It is in its DNA and that DNA prevents its leaders from show­ing their opposition to the state in Algeria, where there is confusion between the state and the political government of the moment.”

The secularist FFS said the move was an indication that the regime was seeking “to bring the opposi­tion into jointly managing the trag­edy of the elections after it has mo­nopolised all the political leverage and imposed its economic choices.”

“The top three parties — FLN, Rally and MPS — will certainly ob­tain ministerial positions in the new government to be led by Sellal, who wants to be above partisan politick­ing,” said political analyst Bouali Karim. “That is why the president renews his trust in him and keeps him to implement his programmes until the next presidential elections in 2019.”

Analysts said the other contender to be prime minister was Ouyahia, who held the office from 2008-12, but his chances were limited after he signalled his willingness to re­place Bouteflika, a risky political position.

“Yes, I think that Ouyahia wants to be president and that is not a fault or vice per se,” said FLN Sec­retary-General Djamel Ould Abbes during an interview May 15. “How­ever, there is an important detail here regarding this issue. Algeria is presided over by Abdelaziz Boutef­lika and, since the latter is the president, the one who aspires to be president must put the brakes on his ambitions.”