Algerian opposition parties to boycott presidential elections

Wed 29 Jan 2014

Algerian opposition parties to boycott presidential elections

Algeria’s main Islamist party, the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), will boycott the presidential elections due to be held on April 17th. Party chief Abderrazak Mokri made the announcement on January 25 to journalists following two days of debate within the MSP. He said the party will boycott the election because of “the lack of real opportunity for political reform, the monopoly of those currently in power over the election and the fact that political demands for transparency are ignored.” Mokri said the authorities are seeking to “trump the will of the people to freely choose who governs.”

The MSP had previously been allied with incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika until December 2012 when the party released a statement saying the country was "heading for disaster" if Bouteflika won a fourth term. The party’s decision represents a break from its history of always participating in elections.

The day before, the liberal Rally for Culture and Democracy party (RCD) already announced its own election boycott for similar reasons. The RCD and other opposition parties called for an independent commission to conduct elections instead of the Interior Ministry. The government rejected their request. Louisa Hanoun of Algeria’s Workers Party, meanwhile, announced her candidacy for the elections.

Presidential elections
Algeria's ruling party, the National Liberation Front (FLN) has named the ailing President Bouteflika as their candidate for the upcoming election, but the 76-year-old leader who has been in power for the past 14 years has still not declared his candidacy officially. Bouteflika rose to power in 1999, and was re-elected in 2004 and again in 2009, after changes in the constitution which allowed him to stand for more than two terms. All three elections were marked by allegations of fraud. Bouteflika was recently in Paris for health issues, rising concerns over his ability to run for a new term.

On January 20 former Algerian prime minister, Ali Benflis, has announced his candidacy for April's presidential election, the only bid so far that can gather enough support if the incumbent President decides not to join the race. Benflis, a former leader of Algeria’s ruling FLN, hit out at a series of corruption scandals that have stained the current government. "The problem is not just administrative corruption, but also political corruption, the one that guarantees impunity," Benflis told reporters. "This country of youngsters should put its destiny in the hands of its youth," he added.

However, Bouteflika's candidacy, if confirmed, would wipe out Benflis' chances of garnering enough votes to become President, as Bouteflika is backed by the ruling parties, unions and other key groupings.

Popular dissatisfaction

As in many Arabic-speaking countries, the government faced calls for democratic change in 2011, but protests did not reach the scale seen elsewhere. Algeria’s huge oil wealth attracts strong interest from foreign oil firms. The country has estimated oil reserves of nearly 12 billion barrels. However, Bouteflika’s state-orientated economic policies have proven unable to transfer the wealth to the people and to bring progress into the country. Poverty remains widespread and unemployment high, particularly among Algeria's youth. Government corruption and poor standards in public services are also chronic sources of popular dissatisfaction.

Sources: Al Arabiya, The Washington Post, Albawaba, Al Jazeera, BBC