By Nazim Fethi and Hayam El Hadi for Magharebia
The winds of change blowing in the Arab world have not left Algeria untouched. Political parties and trade unions have been pressing for reform, but each has a different view of what change means.
The idea of a constitutional assembly is gaining ground.
Veteran opposition figure Hocine Aït Ahmed, leader of the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), said that the body would be a prelude to political reform. Algeria needs “younger blood” in the elites and a national debate to consider people’s day-to-day concerns, he said.
Workers’ Party chairwoman Louisa Hanoune supported the idea. She called for creating committees to collate the demands of people in all wilayas and pass them on to the government.
For his part, former Prime Minister Ahmed Benbitour insisted on “a complete change of the system, not a change of people”. To that end, it is essential to bring the opposition together into an alliance and to designate six “credible and competent” national figures to lead the reform process, he said.
Benbitour stressed the need to create independent radio and television stations, approve new parties, appoint a transitional government to prepare for early presidential and legislative elections and organise a referendum on a new constitution following discussions with civil society.
The country needs to draft a new national charter to define the nature of the regime, Algerian National Front chairman Moussa Touati argued.
Meanwhile, the National Co-ordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD) suggested that a conference be held to appoint a council for democratic transition, with a one-year mandate. The main goal is to put an “end to the current political regime and build a real democracy, a civil government and the rule of law”.
The ruling alliance, however, dismissed the idea of a constitutional assembly. National Liberation Front (FLN) leader Abdelaziz Belkhadem said that the revision of the constitution would only take place after the 2012 legislative elections but added that the president might move ahead with amendments before that.
Algeria “is not experiencing a political crisis at the moment”, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia maintained. He also cast doubts over the capacity of the assembly to arrive at consensus on what political regime to adopt.
Still, Ouyahia acknowledged the existence of social tensions in the country due to “lack of transparency in communication”.
“We have to trust that everything will work out in due course and not force the pace, because as everyone in Algeria knows, there is a political need for the wounds to heal,” he said.
The prime minister said that new socio-economic measures would soon be revealed and follow up on those already agreed by the council of ministers on February 22nd.
These measures require additional funding, he said, but one “cannot put a price on the stability of the country”.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, meanwhile, has not addressed the nation since last October, the start of the legal year. The silence stirred conflicting feelings on the Algerian street.
Bouteflika “made the right choice not to speak under the current circumstances,” said Mahmoud Kermouche, who works in the telecommunications sector.
The internal situation “has been kept under control without any need for a speech,” Kermouche, 39, added. “What’s needed is action.”
Political science student Sarah Benmihoub disagreed. “The whole of Algeria is waiting for the content of his reforms, given the fact that the social situation is quite volatile,” she said.
“This could be seen as contempt, given that the whole region is being shaken by serious events,” Benmihoub added. “Algeria cannot remain on the sidelines. Algeria must speak, and who better than the president to do that?”