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1999 Election - President

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. The military's continued influence in government matters constrained citizens from exercising this right to the fullest possible extent. However, the situation continued to improve, although factors such as voter distrust and apathy, and boycotts in the Kabylie region underscored continuing problems in the arena of transparent governance. The strong prerogatives of the executive branch, supported by the entrenched power of the military and the bureaucracy, inhibited citizens from exercising this right.

President Bouteflika was elected in an April 1999 presidential election that was seriously flawed by the withdrawal 1 day before the election of all other candidates, who charged that the military already had begun to implement plans to produce a fraudulent Bouteflika victory. Until those allegations surfaced, the campaign was conducted fairly, with all candidates widely covered in both state-owned and private media.

The conduct of the campaign--although regulated as to the use of languages other than Arabic, and as to the timing, location, and duration of meetings--was free, and all candidates traveled extensively throughout the country. One potential candidate was denied the ability to run because the electoral commission determined that he could not prove that he had participated in the country's war of independence against France, a legal requirement for candidates for President born before July 1942. With the withdrawal of the other candidates and the absence of foreign observers, it was difficult to make an accurate determination of turnout for the election; although it apparently was as low as 30 percent, the Government claimed a 60 percent turnout.

The withdrawal of six presidential candidates in 1999 amidst credible charges of fraud, and the election of President Bouteflika, highlighted the continued dominance of the military elite in the process of selecting the country's political leadership. This dominance was reportedly not as prevalent in parliamentary and local elections.

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 remained contentious as Tamazight has not been elevated to an official language.

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