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Politics - Background

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 16 January 1992, 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. President Liamine Zeroual, a former general, was elected in November 1995 to a 5-year term. Zeroual had previously served as president of a transition government established by the army in 1994. The President controls defense and foreign policy, appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers, and may dissolve the legislature. The presidential election was competitive. Three opposition candidates had some access to state-controlled television and radio and also received heavy coverage in the independent press. Zeroual received 61 percent of the votes according to government figures; losing candidates claimed that there were instances of fraud but did not contest Zeroual's victory.

Algeria had not had an elected parliament since January 1992. In 1994 the military-backed Government appointed a National Transition Council as a surrogate parliament. The President pledged to hold new parliamentary elections in the first half of 1997.

In May 1996 the President began reviewing with legal opposition parties a memorandum containing his ideas on how to develop a political system. These included amending the Constitution to define acceptable political practices and to establish a second parliamentary chamber (a senate). The President also insisted the electoral and political party laws be changed. In September several important opposition political parties joined with the President to sign a national charter encompassing these ideas.

The President called a popular referendum in November 1996 to amend the Constitution, and 79 percent of the voters approved the changes, according to the Government. Under the new Constitution, the President has the authority to rule by decree in special circumstances. The President must subsequently submit to the Parliament for approval decrees issued while the Parliament was not in session. The Parliament will henceforth have a popularly elected lower chamber and a Senate, two-thirds of whose members will be elected by municipal councils. The President will appoint the remaining one-third of the Senate's members. Legislation must have the approval from three-quarters of both the upper and lower chambers' members to be made law. Laws must originate in the lower house.

In June 1997 Algeria held its first elections to the APN since the January 1992 elections were canceled and elected the first multiparty parliament in the country's history. Candidates representing 39 political parties participated, along with several independent candidates. All competing parties and candidates were allowed to campaign actively and had access to radio and television, although there was some government manipulation of the broadcasts. Under a system of proportional representation, the government party won 154 seats, followed by the Islamist party MSP with 69 seats, the National Liberation Front with 64 seats, the Islamist party An-Nahdah with 34 seats, the Berber-based Socialist Forces Front with 20 seats, and the Berber-based Rally for Culture and Democracy with 19 seats. Independent candidates won 11 seats, the Workers' Party won 4 seats, and three other small parties won a combined total of 5 seats.

Hundreds of international observers were present throughout the country. Some observers were refused access to certain provincial electoral commissions. Most observers felt that mobile polling stations, about 5 percent of all polling stations, did not furnish adequate guarantees of neutrality and transparency. In their final report, neutral observers stated that, of 1,258 (of the country's 35,000) voting stations that they assessed, 1,169 were satisfactory, 95 were problematic, and 11 unsatisfactory. On 08 November 1997, the provincial election commissions announced the results of their adjudication of the appeals filed by various political parties. The RND lost some seats but remained the overall victor in the June Assembly elections.

Opposition parties had very limited access to state-controlled television and radio, but the independent press publicizes their views without difficulty. During the June and October 1997 elections, however, opposition parties were given much more access to the state media. Following the June elections, the state television transmitted the Popular Assembly debates live and uncensored.

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