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Algeria - Political Parties

The legalization of political parties, further enunciated in the Law Relative to Political Associations of July 1989, was one of the major achievements of the revised constitution. More than thirty political parties emerged as a result of these reforms by the time of the first multiparty local and regional elections in June 1990; nearly sixty existed by the time of the first national multiparty elections in December 1991.

Granting the right to form "associations of a political character," the constitution recognized the existence of opposition parties. Earlier, such parties were precluded because the FLN had a national mandate as a front, eliminating the political necessity of competitive political parties. Other political associations had also been limited because trade unions and other civil associations fell under FLN direction and had little autonomy. The new constitution recognized all political associations and mandated only a commitment to national unity and sovereignty. The July law further clarified the guidelines for the establishment and participation of political parties.

The law prohibited associations formed exclusively on regional, ethnic, or religious grounds. Ironically, however, the two parties that profited most in the 1990 and 1991 elections were the FIS and the FFS from the Kabylie region. That these parties were among the first legalized in 1989 has given credence to those who maintain that Benjedid's liberalization was based more on tactical personal considerations than genuine democratic ambitions. They argue that these parties had the means and appeal to challenge the monopoly of the FLN. The FLN became the main antagonist to the liberalization program of Benjedid and his then prime minister, Hamrouche. By the time of the military coup, the FLN had completely broken with the government.

The December 1991 elections and the scheduled second-round runoffs in January 1992 provided the first national test for the new multiparty system. The elections were open to all registered parties--parties had to register before the campaign period began--and were contested by almost fifty parties. Voting was by universal and secret ballot and assembly seats were awarded based on a proportional representation system. Only 231 of the 430 seats were decided in the first round of elections in which 59 percent of eligible voters participated, but an Islamist victory seemed assured by the Islamist command of 80 percent of the contested seats. The second round of elections was canceled by the military coup of January 11, 1992.

Since 1997, when parliamentary life resumed after its suspension in 1992, several parties have had seats in parliament and have participated in government. The main parties today are:

  1. Front de Liberation Nationale (National Liberation Front, FLN), which was the sole legal party from 1962 to 1989. After a series of electoral defeats, it made a big comeback in the 2002 parliamentary elections. It is led by Abdelaziz Belkhadem, former Foreign Minister. It is nationalist and conservative.
  2. Harakat Mujtama's al-Silm (Movement of Society for Peace, MSP), formerly known as Hamas, was born in 1989. The current leader is Bouguerra Soltani (it founder and former leader Mahfoud Nahnah, a moderate Islamist, died in 2004). The party's aim is to establish Islamic regimes in all Muslim countries. It is close to Egypt's Muslim Brothers.
  3. Front des Forces Socialists (Front of Socialist Forces, FFS) was born in the 1960s and was illegal until 1989. It is led by Hocine Ait-Ahmed, a hero of the anti-colonial war. It is relatively liberal and a vocal opponent to the current regime. Its constituency is limited to ethnic Berberophones in a small region west of Algiers (Kabylie),
  4. Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Democracy (Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD was born in 1989 as an essentially ethnic party which focuses on the Berber language and culture. It is relatively conservative and has supported the government in its fight against the Islamist rebellion. Its leader is Said Saadi.
  5. Harakah al-Nahda (Renaissance Movement, or MN, known as Ennahda) was created by Abdellah Djaballah, who was ousted from it in 1998. The movement subsequently came under the control of Lahbib Adami. It is a relatively conservative Islamist party that is willing to work within the existing system.
  6. Harakat al-Islah al-Watani (Movement of National Reform, or MRN, known as Islah) is led by Abdallah Djaballah, who created it in 1998 after his ouster from Ennahda. It is a relatively conservative Islamist party that competes with MSP.
  7. al-Jabha al-Islamiyya lil-inqadh (Islamic Front of Salvation, FIS) was created in 1989 and banned in 1992; its two leaders, Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj were jailed from 1991 to 2003. The party has lost its structure and much of its social basis. It intended to establish an Islamic state and resorted to wide-scale violence in 1992 after it was denied its electoral victory.

In 1997, parliamentary election reinstated parliamentary life-which was suspended in 1992-and allowed two moderate Islamist parties, the Harakat Mujtam'a al-Silm (Movement of Society for Peace, MSP) and Harakat al-Nahda, known as Ennahda, to win respectively 69 and 34 seats out of 380 and to control seven ministerial posts in the government. In a paradoxical turn of events, the MSP of Mahfoud Nahnah ended up being part of a coalition government that included the conservative FLN and the new pro-establishment party, the National Democratic Rally (RND), which was created a few months earlier to lend support to President Liamine Zeroual. This alliance of convenience became known as ''the islamo-conservative'' alliance.

Opposition parties are new in Algeria; they became legal only in 1989. Before then, and since independence from France in 1962, Algeria had only one party, the National Liberation Front. There are today many parties, but only a few of them have some relevance. Many people see them as out of touch with society at large and not useful in the aggregation and articulation of people's interests and grievances.

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