By Nazim Fethi
Election fever is spreading in Algeria ahead of the official start of the campaign season on Sunday (April 15th).
Authorities have appealed to voters to participate in the May 10th elections and have invited international observers to witness the vote, giving assurances that the poll will be free and transparent.
The ruling coalition that once held a majority in parliament and government no longer exists. The Movement for a Society of Peace (MSP) was the first to leave, even though it retains its ministerial posts in the government and its seats in parliament.
MSP leader Bouguerra Soltani has formed a “Green Alliance” with two other Islamist parties, Ennahda and El Islah, with the goal of becoming head of the ruling coalition.
Abdallah Djaballah, the founder of Ennahda and later El Islah as well as current president of the Front for Justice and Development (FJD), expressed equal confidence that he would be the next prime minister. However, the party is suffering from turbulence and resignations due to a lack of agreement over its lists of candidates.
Meanwhile, things look very bleak for the biggest party in parliament. The National Liberation Front (FLN) is experiencing an unprecedented crisis.
More than half of the members of the FLN central committee are calling for an extraordinary session to demand the immediate dismissal of the party’s general secretary, Abdelaziz Belkhadem.
The crisis is due to the exclusion of officials and ministers from the party’s election lists and, in particular, the candidacy of people who have never been active in the party, such as the former wife of Cheikh Youcef Qaradhaoui in Algiers and billionaires who were recently appointed to the party’s executive bodies.
The leader of the FLN has said that he was “ready to stand down in the event of defeat” of his party’s candidates.
Other parties are faring little better.
Discontent is gripping the National Democratic Rally (RND) led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, especially in the far south of the country, where the spiritual leader of the Touaregs has called for a boycott of the election in protest against the men selected to represent the party.
The Socialist Forces Front (FFS), led by Hocine Ait-Ahmed, has decided to participate in the elections. This veteran opposition party is hoping to fare better than it did in recent polls, especially as its main rival in Kabylie, the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), has decided to call for a boycott.
Finally, the Workers’ Party (PT) led by Louisa Hanoune, which is already represented in parliament, is hoping to gain more seats by fielding former trade unionists who have worked in key sectors and hold great influence.
Parties have chosen prominent figures such as journalists, football club chairmen, senior executives, active trade unionists and well-known women to head up their lists, but there has been much debate about the emergence of businessmen believed to have paid for the opportunity to claim seats in parliament and thereby gain immunity against prosecution.
Such allegations have been made by several party leaders, spurring the interior ministry to launch an investigation and threaten stiff penalties for anyone found guilty of wrongdoing.
According to a survey run by El Watan published April 5th, at least 44 per cent of voters will turn out. Polls have not shown a decisive frontrunner, however, and instead show that there will likely be a “mosaic” in parliament with no one party holding a majority.