By Nazim Fethi
In the run-up to Algeria’s May 10th legislative elections, former Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) leaders are calling for a boycott.
Abbassi Madani and Ali Belhadj issued a joint statement on Tuesday (March 13th) describing the government as “illegitimate” and alleging authorities had a history of falsifying elections.
The FIS boycott call comes after the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) issued its own rejection of the elections and despite personal appeals by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika encouraging Algerians to turn out and vote.
Madani, in exile in Qatar, and Belhadj, who lives in Algeria, said that “radical regime change will only come about through abstention at the next election”. The two Islamist leaders spoke out against “the pressure and threats used by the regime against the Algerian public to force them to vote in large numbers on May 10th”.
They also criticised the reforms introduced by President Bouteflika as having been dictated by the wind of Arab revolt, saying they remain “superficial” and “temporary”.
For its part, the RCD claimed conditions allowed “all kinds of manipulation to swell the turn-out figures and falsify voting figures”, adding that the government “created a political problem which will be very difficult for them to get out of”, a reference to a ban on public charities communicating with foreign NGOs.
“This is not a political decision we shall have to take; it’s a public service we owe to our people, who have the right to count among their number many men and women who have saved their dignity, and the dignity of the nation as a result,” the secular party said. MP Mohcen Belabbes recently took the reins of the RCD from long-time leader Said Sadi.
Meanwhile the government has been pushing voters to turn out en masse. Over ten days in February, President Bouteflika made six speeches on the subject. He went as far as to say that if people did not turn out to vote, it would open the door to foreign intervention.
“All eyes are on Algeria,” Bouteflika said. “The success of the forthcoming elections will protect you from the unknown, but if they fail, then the whole country’s credibility will be at stake.”
“The world in which we live is going through difficult times, hence the need to adapt to the new situation,” the president continued.
Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia went even further, claiming that abstention in the legislative elections would “mean a return to the decade of blood”.
But Islamist parties new and old are convinced they will win the legislative elections. On top of this, three of them have decided to create a “Green Algeria Alliance” to enhance their chances on the ballot. However, the alliance is pinning its hopes on the same electoral base which enabled the former FIS to win the legislative elections in 1991.
Moreover, they all claim to represent the same constituency, calling on the leaders of the now-dissolved party to be involved in their official activities.
Observers say the call from the two leaders of the disbanded FIS is a slap in the face for the Islamist parties, who have been hoping to ride the wave of the Arab Spring.