Islamists to join Algeria cabinet despite poor results
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.”