By Hayam El Hadi
Concerns are mounting in Algeria over the funding of Islamist political parties in the country’s May 15th election. Even before the official start of campaigning on April 15th, several parties had been accused of accepting funding from abroad.
The leader of the Workers’ Party caused a stir initially with allegations that unnamed Islamist parties had received financial support from Qatar and Turkey. At a February 19th party meeting, Louisa Hanoune questioned the “reasons why three Islamist parties have travelled to Qatar”, and called on the government to ensure that no foreign funding was received.
Also in February, Seddik Chihab, a senior member of the National Democratic Rally, claimed that Islamists were “travelling to Turkey and Qatar to pick up a few dollars and coming back to sell us their religious model”.
This statement forced the question of campaign financing to the top of the national agenda.
Senior officials and Islamist party leaders have issued a variety of responses. In early April, Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia mentioned the “possibility of an inquiry into this secret funding” and said “the Organic Law on Elections makes provision for extremely tough penalties”.
Claiming to represent the Islamist movement during a press conference on April 14th, Abdelmadjid Menasra of the Front for Change said: “These statements are merely an attempt to stir up controversy and tarnish the image of Islamist parties. If they have any proof of their allegations, they have only to refer the matter to the courts.”
Abdellah Djaballah’s Front for Justice and Development (FJD) is among the accused parties, but the leader refused to be drawn into a heated debate. On March 27th, he said that “funding for the party’s electoral campaign will be the responsibility of the FJD’s chief candidates, because the party does not have a national budget for this purpose”.
Any party that solicits funding from abroad faces severe penalties under the Law on Political Parties. Article 56 stipulates that it is “forbidden for a political party to directly or indirectly receive financial or material support from any foreign party for any purpose or in any form.”
These provisions are echoed in the Organic Law on Elections. In Article 204 it is stipulated that “no candidate in a national or local election may directly or indirectly receive donations in cash or in kind or any other contribution of any kind that originates from a foreign state or an individual or legal entity of foreign nationality.”
Penalties are covered by article 231, which states that “anyone who infringes the provisions of article 204 of this Organic Law shall be punished by 1-5 years’ imprisonment and a fine of between 2,000 and 20,000 Algerian dinars.”
Mohamed Seddiki, president of the CNSEL (National Legislative Election Monitoring Commission), assured voters on March 28th that “if parties have received foreign funding, the relevant authorities will take appropriate action.”
Security is increasing in advance of the May poll, AFP reported. On April 19th, police chief Abdelghani Hamel announced the deployment of more than 60,000 police officers across the country to ensure public safety.
“We will even call up trainees,” Hamel told APS.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime bills the election as part of an unprecedented reform process that comes amid deep political upheaval in most of Algeria’s neighbouring states.
Around 500 foreign election observers are expected in Algeria – Africa’s largest country – for the polls. The opposition has systematically denounced fraud in previous votes.