The Algerian government wants to eliminate small political parties | Yassin Temlali
The Algerian government wants to eliminate small political parties Print
Yassin Temlali   
  The Algerian government wants to eliminate small political parties | Yassin Temlali If participation in the 17 May 2007 parliamentary elections was listless, it was because the profusion of ‘small lists’ confused the electorate and discredited the ballot—at least so say the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the National Democracy Rally (RND),(*) Algeria’s two government parties. Naturally, their miracle solution is to eliminate the small political parties that make up the competition. It’s a move that only reinforces growing dissatisfaction with the political process, a disaffection that has already extracted its price from Algeria’s main parties as support dwindles alarmingly for one and stagnates for the other.

The real crux of the electoral law amendments that the Belkhadem government, dominated by the FLN and RND, wants to submit to the National People’s Assembly is an administrative ‘clean-up’ of the political scene. The amendments would make it more difficult for most of Algeria’s political parties to participate in the next elections: in effect, they would restrict the right to nominate candidates to those parties that, in the three most recent parliamentary elections, won more than 4% of the recorded votes, spread over at least 25 districts (with at least 2,000 votes per district), or those parties that have at least 600 elected representatives spread over at least 25 districts (with at least 20 representatives per district).

A bizarre pre-election test
Only a few parties meet these draconian conditions, notably those of the Presidential Alliance: the FLN, the RND, and the Islamist Movement for a Peaceful Society (MSP). All the others—even the relatively ‘representative’ Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) and Socialist Forces Front (FFS), which both have strong bases in Kabylia—would need, according to the terms of the amendment, the support of at least 5% of registered voters in any district where they post candidates, with no fewer than 150 voters for primaries and 1,000 for district elections. In other words, they would have to pass a bizarre ‘pre-election test’ to which the Presidential Alliance would not be subjected. The right to participate in parliamentary elections would be subject to the same strict conditions, and parties that failed to meet them would be obliged to pass this same pre-election test, obtaining 400 voter signatures per contested seat in any electoral district.

The government’s project will invariably create a two-tier political system with no opportunity for movement between the tiers, given the limitations that since 1992 have hemmed in the opposition during the periods outside electoral campaigns. The minister of the interior, explaining the electoral code, and doubtless thinking he was being witty, didn’t hesitate to speak of a “first division” and a “second division”—essentially equating the political process with a football championship.

Many parties, including the RCD, have denounced these administrative limits on political life. They believe the Belkhadem cabinet’s amendment project is an authoritarian response to the decline of the FLN, which in the May 2007 parliamentary elections lost more than half the votes it had won in 2002. And some, like the Socialist Workers’ Party (PST), commented that, having won the support of only 7% and 3% of voters respectively, the FLN and RND can hardly be called ‘major parties.’

Eliminating the electoral marketplace?
The government confirms that it wants to clear the political scene of the ‘non-representative’ parties, which have been accused of transforming Algerian politics into a ‘marketplace’ where candidacies are bought and sold. But in fact many of the parties the government is denouncing today were once encouraged—and even created—by the security services: in the early 1990s. They were the regime’s only supporters and agreed to sit in its institutions. And while it may be true that some of them are active players in this infamous ‘marketplace,’ they’re not the only ones. The purchase of top places in electoral lists is also common practice for both the RND and the FLN—so much so that in the last parliamentary elections, their leaderships decided to draw up the candidate lists themselves.

Of the ‘small organizations’ targeted by the Belkhadem cabinet’s clean-up project, some are affiliated with political currents that have run through Algeria for decades. This is especially true of the Social Democratic Movement (MDS, which arose from the old Communist Party) and the Socialist Workers’ Party (radically leftist, even Trotskyist). Clandestine under the single-party system, they played an active role in the struggle for democratization, and their activists are still among the key movers of the country’s various social movements—unionist, student, and feminist.

There’s no question that the amendment of the electoral law intends to restrict the institutional existence of certain organizations, if it can’t dissolve them entirely. That this is the ultimate goal is attested to by the eagerness of the FLN and RND to amend the current electoral formula: proportional representation, by which all parties running win seats in the elected assemblies in proportion to their share of the votes. The FLN and RND are in effect calling for a return to the simple majority system, by which the party that wins the majority in a district wins all the district’s seats. It’s possible that this kind of system will be applied during the November 2007 local elections, and that these will result in most of Algeria’s governing bodies being dominated by a single party.
Yassin Temlali