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Opposition boycotts election, denounces 'disguised coup'

Video by Adel GASTEL , Noreddine BEZZIOU

Text by Youssef ZERARKA

Latest update : 2009-04-07

Algerian opposition leaders will boycott an April 9 presidential election, calling the poll a ‘masquerade’. Virtually unopposed, current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika faces almost certain re-election

Twenty years ago, Algeria seemed to give birth to a promising multi-partite democratic system. Today, however, that promise appears long gone: the race is all but over before the upcoming election on April 9, with current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika virtually unopposed and expected to easily win a third term.

The 79-year old strongman has been in power since 1999. Facing off against six little-known candidates from minor parties, Bouteflika will almost certainly keep the top job another five years. Leading opposition figures Hocine Alt Ahmed of the Socialist Forces Front (SFF) and Saïdi Sadi of the also secular Rally for Culture and Democracy party (RCD) announced they would not run for office, in protest of recent constitutional reforms that allow the Algerian president to be re-elected an indefinite number of times.

Leaders of the former Islamic Salvation Front (ISF), outlawed in 1992, were barred from running for office had they even wanted to. Convicted by Algerian courts, party leaders Abassi Madani and Ali Benhadj are forbidden from holding any public office.

Predictable elections

“National public figures”, a phrase used by the media in reference to several prominent former leaders, are also noticeably absent from the upcoming election. Neither former president Liamine Zeroual (1994-1998) nor the “reforming” former Prime Minister Mouloud Hamrouche (1989-1991) are running for another term on April 9.

This collective boycott denounces the constitutional reform passed on November 12, 2008, by which Bouteflika, as well as future presidents, are no longer limited to two five-year terms in office.

The ‘Tunisian syndrome’

The opposition have nicknamed the reform the ’Tunisian syndrome’, in reference to Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s longstanding reign. They fear it marks the arrival of ‘lifelong presidencies’ in Algeria. Ali Yahia Abdenour, Algerian lawyer and founder of the Algerian Human Rights League, says the upcoming election is democratic only in name. “The outcome of the election was decided on November 12”, he told FRANCE 24.

According to the law, constitutional reforms can be voted either by referendum or by parliamentary vote. Bouteflika’s detractors claim that by choosing the second option with a government-controlled parliament, the president essentially forced his re-election on the people. “It’s a coup d’état in disguise,” the RDC party leader Saïd Sadi told FRANCE 24.

Speaking from Qatar, his home in exile, ISF leader Abassi Madani called on Algerians to massively boycott the vote. Their abstention is justified, he claims, by the gradual clampdown on political freedom of expression in Algeria.

For historian Benjamin Stora, the opposition’s withdrawal from the race is “a problem” which undermines the credibility of the Algerian democratic system. A lack of political change may demoralise the entire political class and wear out the electorate, creating a future generation with no expectations, he told FRANCE 24.

Date created : 2009-04-07