There are many rumours and whispers about what will happen in Algeria’s election next year; how the parliament will look, what parties will be allowed to run and which will not, which will perform well and which will not. The Islamist trend is generally assumed to do well, given regional trends, popular sentiments and the government’s effort to put on a show of piety which some say means even they know or believe Islamists inside Algeria may hope to turn out to do what other have in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. A ‘well informed source’ (government) told the Francophone daily Le Soir D’Algerie about the Algerian government’s supposed strategy for managing the Islamist trend in the upcoming legislative election in either February or March 2012. The article outlines the regime’s perception of the situation generally, lays out how it sees the main Islamist trends emerging and their relationships to one another and to the regional Islamist trend in eastern Algeria and to the ex-FIS cadres and then drops some names from the ‘revolutionary family’ the article’s source says will appear in the campaign in 2012 as part of the Algerian regime’s effort to balance and control Islamist parties and trends. It also includes a reference to the possibility of the FFS participating in the election (it boycotted in 2007). In any case on is curious to find out why other reasonably prominent parties like Moussa Touati’s Algerian National Front (FNA) and so on are not mentioned in the grand scheme Le Soir lays out. This is of course but one report. The is an interesting piece in looking at the Algerian scene as some see it and should, of course, be taken with a grain of salt. This blogger’s comments are interspersed in the text of the summary below.
- Algeria’s regime prepares for elections. In late December the President is expected to issue a decree for the parliamentary elections, set for late February or early March, 2012 and a revised electoral law will have been passed by the Senate around that time. ‘The [electoral] calendar will not undergo any changes,’ though several months of negotiations within le Pouvoir (the core elite) have resulted in the government’s overall attitude and approach to the upcoming election.
- Managing Islamist participation. The article reports the Algerian leadership has been on alert, watching the rise of Islamist parties in other Arab elections. High Islamist turn out is expected: ‘The Islamist vote is the only certainty in this election. The Islamist electorate does not need to be mobilised to turn out,’ the report’s source is quoted as saying. The regime hopes to prevent ‘the enormous potential of the Islamists to focus the election on one party,’ for ‘the pouvoir can accept anything but to have to deal with a large Islamist party’. The regime thus hopes ‘a counter weight to emerge against the Islamists. A pole that will unite nationalists and democrats.’ According to the report the regime has devised a ‘strategy in anticipation’ by which it ‘has already prepared its solution with respect to controlling Islamists.’
- Three Islamist parties will be granted approval to run — Abdallah Djaballah’s party, Mohamed Said’s (X,who ran for president in 2009) and Abdelmadjid Menasra’s MSP=break away party — each relatively new. These will be given a boost to the head of the Islamist movement, long dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood-linked MSP led by Boudjerra Soltani. ‘This will be to the detriment of the MSP, which will be one of the biggest losers in the reconfiguration of the political scene’. The MSP is referred to as having ‘generated distrust and rejection from Islamist hardliners, a large majority of the Islamist electorate.’ It says former FIS voters and leaders ‘do not follow the MSP’s lead’.
- Additionally, the report says the regime has obtained ‘accurate information’ about talks among former FIS leaders and factions and Islamist leaders including Djaballah, Said and Menasra and it mentions importantly that Said is believed to benefit from a comparatively strong eastern set of supporters many of whom are in the camp of Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi (who was a minister under Boumediene and formed the Wafa Party which might have performed well in the late 1990s had it been given the chance). The ex-FIS leaders, according to the article are willing to back a list led by Djaballah or Menasra. The regime, the report quotes its source as saying, fears voters will vote in protest against parties of the governing alliance (the FLN and RND and MSP) or will simply not vote in large numbers, as in previous years.
- On the other side the regime is banking on the participation of three other sets, all from the ‘revolutionary family’ (a phrase coined by former-president Lamine Zeroual in he 1990s when he was tying to mobilise support against the Islamist trend and armed groups referring to the establishment institutions, mass organisations and FLN/RND party organs). The names mentioned are Aziz Belaïd (a functionary of the National Union of Algerian Youth, UNJA), Tahar Benbaïbeche (formerly a top RND cadre and ex-secretary general of the National Organisation of the Children of Chouhada (ONEC), who recently formed his own party, Parti Fedjr El Djadid (PFD)) and Khaled Bounedjma (head of the National Coordination of the Children of Chouhada, (CNEC)), all men associated with the establishment mass organisations which are likely to be capable of turning out numbers of conservative people loyal to the government or its patronage networks.
- Back in the fray? The conclusion of the article refers to a ‘mysterious’ visit to Algiers by Hocine Ait Ahmed, the leader of the Front of Socialist Forces (FFS; Ait Ahmed is based in Lausanne), the oldest opposition party in the country. On this visit Ait Ahmed allegedly ‘met with senior officials’ and as a result of these meetings, the article’s source says, ‘the FFS’s participation in the upcoming legislatives is not in doubt’. His party, which boycotted the last parliamentary elections (2007), is, according to this article, is now considering re-joining national-level formal politics as an element balancing Islamist parties. The article also mentions Louisa Hanoune’s Workers Party (PT) as being basically out of fashion with Bouteflika, the president wanting ‘to add a customer’ — the FFS. Together the PT and FFS are the the two main left-wing parties in Algeria and are the two with the mot relatively popular credibility, though both appeal to different constituencies — the FFS, a member of socialist international, is basically ‘social democratic’ in orientation and for historical reasons finds most of its support in Kabylia and Algiers, though it has performed well elsewhere in the country and has supporters all over while the PT is Trotskyist and its following is less regionally specific (though most of its deputies are from Algiers and it might be notable that its leader, Hanoune, is a Jijeli, but probably not), and has an important following among women, especially feminist activists. Both running would probably contribute to the PT losing some of its seats and constituents and one might see some religious elements winning seats at its expense as well. The mention of the FFS is surprising given the party’s vocal opposition to the government and almost ideological abstention from elections over the years. If this bit of information were true it would be historic in nature and would mean the meeting between Ait Ahmed and ‘senior officials’ brought about some kind of major reconciliation between Ait Ahmed and the core leadership, which comes mainly from his own revolutionary generation (Ait Ahmed is the only surviving member of the group that founded the FLN). Given how tightly Ait Ahmed controls the FFS’s political outlook (though some have said this has decreased in recent years; the party recent got a new secretary general, Ali Laskri), there is some support for this based on recent developments in the party and its rhetoric. The party’s criticism of the new political party law is scathing. In his remarks to party faithful on 11 November (where he marks the 50th anniversary of the Algerian revolution and announces its new secretary general), Ait Ahmed spoke of a ‘national crisis reaching the point of no return’ caused by ‘comprador forces who confiscated Algerian independence and want to erect a facade over the powerful and their violence and predation, thus presenting a veneer of democracy.’ Yet in the same communique he says ‘there is a time for everything in politics’ and speaks about opportunities, the next generation and the next decisions to be made, the mobilisation of party cadres in new ways and so on. Some of the language could be read to anticipate participation in the upcoming election (see the text) but most of it is in line with his normal tone and in light of the Le Soir article appears more ambiguous if it were previously read with an eye toward continuity. The FFS’s founding mission was to challenge the legitimacy of the post-independence FLN (it grew from the struggles between the internal and external factions of the FLN/ALN in the war with France and the imposition of a one party state by Ben Bella); through this background and the leadership of Ait Ahmed it carries a kind of revolutionary legitimacy not found in many other opposition parties, even if its appeal is largely regional (and it is a party often characterised as ‘Kabyle’ or ‘Berber’ though its ideology and background were always national in ambition).