Algeria - Politics
Riots broke out 06 January 2011 in the capital of Algeria because of soaring food prices. Protesters set fires and hurled stones at police in Algiers late Wednesday and Thursday. Security officers responded with tear gas. Tensions remained high in the capital's neighborhood of Bab el-Oued on Thursday, where security officers patrolled the streets. The violence erupted after price hikes were enacted for basic items, such as sugar, flour and oil. Algeria deployed police to mosques and other areas in the capital on Friday, as new riots broke out over rising food prices and high unemployment.
By 2010 citizens had little to do with a political process that was increasingly detached from society. Terrorist violence in Algeria resulted in more than 150,000 deaths during the 1990s. Although the security situation in the country has improved, addressing the underlying issues that brought about the political turmoil of the 1990s remains the government's major task. By 2007 the Algerian regime that was fragile in ways not been before, plagued by a lack of vision, unprecedented levels of corruption and rumblings of division within the military rank and file.
In the context of stagnation in economic and political reform, Algeria's institutions were corroding from within, losing many of their best cadres of workers and civil servants. There was a growing gap between what ordinary Algerians see as their key needs and what they perceive the government is offering in terms of wages and quality of life. As a result, fewer Algerians are willing to help the government. Algerians have been through far worse than this, and internal divisions should not be mistaken for instability. The regime values stability above all else, and is consequently both fragile and stable at the same time.
There is precious little discussion about how to address long-standing political alienation and social discontent throughout the country. Housing is woefully short, while unemployment and underemployment are endemic (at least 50 percent among young people). In a relatively new phenomenon, many young people are trying to flee the country, by small boat if necessary. The average age at which Algerians marry is now into the mid 30s - a vivid indicator of how unhappy the twenty-somethings are. Meanwhile, most world food price hikes are being passed to consumers, for a time in 2008 resulting in strikes by different labor groups almost weekly. This is not the quaking state of the early 1990s. The government is firmly entrenched. However, much of political and social elite sense that Algeria is drifting.
A new constitution was adopted in 1989 that allowed the formation of political parties other than the the National Liberation Front (FLN). It also removed the armed forces, which had run the government since the days of Boumediene, from a designated role in the operation of the government. Among the scores of parties that sprang up under the new constitution, the militant Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was the most successful, winning more than 50% of all votes cast in municipal elections in June 1990 as well as in the first stage of national legislative elections held in December 1991.
Faced with the real possibility of a sweeping FIS victory, the National People's Assembly was dissolved by presidential decree on January 4, 1992. On January 11, under pressure from the military leadership, President Chadli Bendjedid resigned. On January 14, a five-member High Council of State was appointed by the High Council of Security to act as a collegiate presidency and immediately canceled the second round of elections. This action, coupled with political uncertainty and economic turmoil, led to a violent reaction by Islamists. On January 16, Mohamed Boudiaf, a hero of the Liberation War, returned after 28 years of exile to serve as Algeria's fourth president. Facing sporadic outbreaks of violence and terrorism, the security forces took control of the FIS offices in early February, and the High Council of State declared a state of emergency. In March, following a court decision, the FIS Party was formally dissolved, and a series of arrests and trials of FIS members occurred resulting in more than 50,000 members being jailed. Algeria became caught in a cycle of violence, which became increasingly random and indiscriminate. On June 29, 1992, President Boudiaf was assassinated in Annaba in front of TV cameras by Army Lt. Lembarek Boumarafi, who allegedly confessed to carrying out the killing on behalf of the Islamists.
Despite efforts to restore the political process, violence and terrorism dominated the Algerian landscape during the 1990s. In 1994, Liamine Zeroual, former Minister of Defense, was appointed Head of State by the High Council of State for a three-year term. During this period, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) launched terrorist campaigns against government figures and institutions to protest the banning of the Islamist parties. A breakaway GIA group--the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)--also undertook terrorist activity in the country. Government officials estimate that more than 150,000 Algerians died during this period.
Zeroual called for presidential elections in 1995, though some parties objected to holding elections that excluded the FIS. Zeroual was elected president with 75% of the vote. By 1997, in an attempt to bring political stability to the nation, the National Democratic Rally (RND) party was formed by a progressive group of FLN members. In September 1998, President Liamine Zeroual announced that he would step down in February 1999, 21 months before the end of his term, and that presidential elections would be held.
Algerians went to the polls in April 1999, following a campaign in which seven candidates qualified for election. On the eve of the election, all candidates except Abdelaziz Bouteflika pulled out amid charges of widespread electoral fraud. Bouteflika, the candidate who appeared to enjoy the backing of the military, as well as the FLN and the RND party regulars, won with an official vote count of 70% of all votes cast. He was inaugurated on April 27, 1999 for a 5-year term.
President Bouteflika's agenda focused initially on restoring security and stability to the country. Following his inauguration, he proposed an official amnesty for those who fought against the government during the 1990s with the exception of those who had engaged in "blood crimes," such as rape or murder. This "Civil Concord" policy was widely approved in a nationwide referendum in September 2000. Government officials estimate that 80% of those fighting the regime during the 1990s have accepted the civil concord offer and have attempted to reintegrate into Algerian society. Bouteflika also launched national commissions to study education and judicial reform, as well as restructuring of the state bureaucracy.
In 2001, Berber activists in the Kabylie region of the country, reacting to the death of a youth in gendarme custody, unleashed a resistance campaign against what they saw as government repression. Strikes and demonstrations in the Kabylie region were commonplace as a result, and some spread to the capital. Chief among Berber demands was recognition of Tamazight (a general term for Berber languages) as an official language, official recognition and financial compensation for the deaths of Kabyles killed in demonstrations, an economic development plan for the area and greater control over their own regional affairs. In October 2001, the Tamazight language was recognized as a national language, but the issue remains contentious as Tamazight has not been elevated to an official language.
The April 8, 2004, presidential election was the first election since independence in which several candidates competed. Besides incumbent President Bouteflika, five other candidates, including one woman, competed in the election. Opposition candidates complained of some discrepancies in the voting list; irregularities on polling day, particularly in Kabylie; and of unfair media coverage during the campaign as Bouteflika, by virtue of his office, appeared on state-owned television daily. Bouteflika was re-elected in the first round of the election with 84.99% of the vote. Just over 58% of those Algerians eligible to vote participated in the election.
President Bouteflika implemented the Charter on Peace and National Reconciliation on March 1, 2006, as one way to bring closure. Thus far, it has successfully gained the surrender of a number of moderate Islamists but, paradoxically, has emboldened the more hard-core elements, in particular the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which merged with al-Qaida in September 2006, and changed its name in January 2007 to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Multiparty parliamentary elections were held in May 2007 for the lower house, but not all political parties were allowed full access to the electoral process. The MOI disqualified the Islamist party Islah on the grounds that its leader had not been elected in a recent party congress. Multiparty local elections were held in November 2007, but the election process was marred by irregularities and charges of fraud. No monitoring of the vote counting process was allowed at the local, district, or national level.
Voter turnout for the 2007 legislative and local elections was lower than ever before because Algeria's young people do not see the political system as having any relevance to addressing their problems. There were reports of restrictions placed on opposition political parties. Opposition candidates complained that the MOI regularly blocked registered parties from holding meetings and denied them access to larger and better-equipped government conference rooms while facilitating the activities of the pro-Bouteflika National Liberation Front (FLN). The law requires that potential political parties receive official approval from the MOI to be established. To obtain approval a party must have 25 founders from across the country whose names must be registered with the MOI. July 2007 amendments to the electoral law stated that a party must receive 4 percent of the vote or have received at least 2,000 votes in 25 wilayas (provinces) in one of the last three legislative elections to participate in national elections.
In November 2008, the parliament adopted a set of constitutional amendments that included a removal of presidential term limits. The parliament approved the proposed amendments by a wide margin with minimal debate. President Bouteflika won a third term in the April 9, 2009, elections with, officially, 90.2% of the vote. Opposition members again complained of unfair media coverage and irregularities during voting, and some parties boycotted the vote.
Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association significantly impaired political party activities and significantly limited citizens' ability to change the government peacefully through elections. Some opposition parties boycotted the election, arguing restrictions on freedom of association skewed the election outcome in favor of the incumbent. A state of emergency implemented in 1992 remained in effect during the year, although the government mostly enforced provisions restricting assembly and association. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
In keeping with its amended Constitution, the Algerian Government espouses participatory democracy and free-market competition. The government has stated that it will continue to open the political process and encourage the creation of political institutions.
Presidential elections took place in April 2009. To the surprise of no one, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected to a third term on April 9. Election observers from the Arab League, African Union, and Organization of the Islamic Conference stated in a press conference that the 09 April 2009 election was fair and transparent. The carefully choreographed and heavily controlled election produced official results the main opposition leader called "Brezhnevian." Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni announced in a press conference on April 10 that a record 74.54 percent of over 20 million eligible voters participated in the election, with Bouteflika receiving 90.24 percent of the votes. Opposition parties and defeated candidates have placed actual turnout figures at between 18 and 55 percent, while informal US Embassy observations indicated that the vast majority of polling stations were empty across the capital, with actual turnout at 25-30 percent at most.
After the final vote tally, Zerhouni said Bouteflika landed 90.24 percent of the vote, followed by Worker's Party (PT) candidate Louisa Hanoune with a distant 4.22 percent, the Algerian National Front's (FNA) Moussa Touati with 2.31 percent, El Islah's Djahid Younsi with 1.37 percent, Ali Fouzi Rebaine of Ahd 54 with 0.93 percent, and Mohamed Said of the unregistered Party for Liberty and Justice (PLJ) in last place with 0.92 percent.
As many observers here predicted before the election, the official turnout figure has stirred more controversy than the election result itself. Two hours after the polls closed on election day, Zerhouni put turnout at 74.11 percent, revising the number slightly upward the next day. State-run television (ENTV) and the pages of the regime newspaper El Moudjahid ran images depicting crowds of voters queuing outside Algiers polling stations. But anecdotal reports of voter activity suggested Zerhouni's figure to be greatly exaggerated. The crowds of voters on state media appeared dressed for cold weather, while April 9 was generally warm and sunny, suggesting that officials used archive footage from previous elections. The opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) charged that at several polling stations, the Interior Ministry bussed in loyal voters such as plainclothes police to create an optic that matched the desired turnout result.
Some international experts commented that observers monitored only election-day procedures and were not on the ground to evaluate preelection activities. Others noted that the complexity of some election procedures created room for fraud and government influence. Two opposition parties, the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) and the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), boycotted the election, arguing that restrictions on freedom of association disadvantaged potential challengers and made the outcome of the election a foregone conclusion. The LADDH pointed to a lack of critical debate in the media and favorable treatment of the incumbent by state-owned media.
There were complaints during the three-week campaign period that public areas dedicated to election propaganda did not display each candidate's materials equally. Some candidates reported interference from local election committees when organizing meetings with voters and filed complaints with the National Election Commission. On March 21, the Party of Liberty and Justice (PLJ) reported that one of its campaign buses was vandalized by a group of youths as PLJ's candidate left a meeting with supporters in the Algiers suburb of Bab El Oued. On March 29, authorities arrested an FFS official in Tizi Ouzou for distributing pamphlets calling for a boycott of the election. On April 4, police blocked a group of RCD party members who attempted to march in an Algiers suburb to encourage voters to boycott the election. In general all candidates received equal access to television and radio media as stipulated in the electoral code.
Radio and television are government-owned and broadcast coverage favorable to the government. During nonelection periods, opposition spokesmen generally were denied access to public radio or television. Some opposition parties were denied access to television. These limitations were less evident for radio. Political parties and independent candidates received the same amount of radio access time during the three-week campaign period prior to the 09 April 2009 presidential election and prior to the 2007 legislative and local elections. Several opposition parties said that their daily media allotment during the three-week period was the first time they had been allowed media access since the last election cycle. The country's print media consisted of numerous publications that supported or opposed the government to varying degrees. According to Ministry of Communication statistics, 29 newspapers circulated in excess of 10,000 copies each. The government owned two French-language and three Arabic-language newspapers. Many political parties, including legal Islamic parties, had access to the independent press and used it to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the Internet and published communiqués.
Algeria has more than 45 daily newspapers published in French and Arabic, with a total circulation of more than 1.5 million copies. There are 20 domestically printed weekly publications with total circulation of 622,000 and 11 monthly publications with total circulation of 600,000. In 2001, the government amended the Penal Code provisions relating to defamation and slander, a step widely viewed as an effort to rein in the press. While the Algerian press is relatively free to write as it chooses, use of the defamation laws significantly increased the level of press harassment following President Bouteflika's April 2004 re-election victory and, as a result, the press began to censor itself. In July 2006, President Bouteflika pardoned all journalists convicted of defaming or insulting state institutions. The pardon effectively dismissed the charges against 67 people. Critics point out that, according to the criminal code, insulting the president is punishable by prison sentence. Nevertheless, the pardon was widely seen as a significant step toward democracy. The government holds a monopoly over broadcast media; however, Algerian newspapers are widely seen to be among the freest in the region. Editors of major Arabic- and French-language print dailies often complain of the government's reluctance to share information, grant interviews, or relax its defamation law. Under this law, a joint criminal-civil lawsuit can be brought against a newspaper's publisher, editor in chief, and the reporting journalist, which can result in fines, a jail sentence, and civil liability.
The law permits the government to censor, levy fines, and imprison members of the press. The government directly and indirectly censored and intimidated the media into practicing self-censorship. The government used defamation laws to harass and arrest some journalists, and some members of the press faced retaliation for criticizing government officials. Other journalists and many political cartoonists, however, regularly criticized the government. With civil society and opposition on the ropes, Bouteflika's control over the system appeared secure, albeit with no discernible vision for a progressive political future. Without unveiling such a vision through dialogue between citizens, civil society, opposition parties and government, the fate of the disillusioned 72 percent of Algeria's population under the age of 30 remained in doubt, and with it, the long-term stability of the country. As the UN's Mbaye put it, Algeria is "sitting on a volcano."
On Thursday 10 May 2012 voters cast ballots for the 462-member parliament. About half of the 44 political parties that competed were legalized this year. The moderate Islamist coalition that includes Algeria's ruling National Liberation Front was expected to emerge as the top vote-getter. An Islamist victory, in Algeria's first elections since the Arab Spring, would echo trends in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. An alliance of moderate Islamists claimed 66 seats and claimed “widespread fraud.” Opposition activists citing ongoing distrust of promised government reforms had urged voters to stay away from the polls.
Algeria's main ruling party, the National Liberation Front, won 220 seats in the 462-seat legislative body. The National Democratic Rally, known by French initials RND, finished second to give the pro-government alliance a comfortable majority. Opposition parties said the vote was rigged, and have encouraged foreign observers to hold officials to account. The interior ministry said voter turnout was 44-percent, compared to a record low turnout of 37-percent in the 2007 elections.
The European Union and the United States endorsed Algeria's parliamentary elections as an important step toward reform, even as some opposition forces expressed suspicion that the vote was fraudulent. The head of the EU observer team there, Jose Salafranca, criticized Algeria for not giving foreign observers free access to the nationwide electoral roll. He said officials running the elections had pledged more transparency. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated Algerians on expressing "their will." She also applauded the high number of women elected.
In April 2011, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had announced a series of constitutional reforms after pro-democracy protests erupted in 2011. Also, his government, for the first time, admitted international election observers as part of efforts to boost transparency. The new parliament will vote on proposed constitutional changes and lay the groundwork for presidential elections in 2014.
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