Opposition party plans to boycott Algeria’s April elections
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.