FLN wins hollow victory in Algerian poll

07 June 2002

The 31 May parliamentary elections have resulted in the return to prominence of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the party that controlled Algeria for 30 years until the disastrous attempt to impose a multiparty system was made in 1989. The elections were marred by continuing violence, and a boycott by the Kabyle minority. Opposition figures said the poll was symptomatic of the institutional failure of the Algerian state.

The FLN secured 199 of the 389 seats in the National Assembly, compared with 64 in the previous elections, held in 1997. The FLN performance owed much to the efforts by party chief and Prime Minister Ali Benflis to get rid of the old guard and promote the younger generation. President Bouteflika's National People's Assembly (RND), by contrast, saw its number of seats fall to 48 from 155.

However, the result still left the two parties associated with 'le pouvoir' - what Algerians refer to as the military-dominated powers behind the scenes - in a dominant position. The three tolerated Islamist parties managed to muster 82 seats between them, and the remaining seats went to independents and minority leftist parties. The turnout was put officially at 46 per cent.

Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni claimed that the poll was a mark of 'restored trust' in Algeria's institutions. However, the claim sat uncomfortably with the widespread evidence of hostility towards a state that has struggled to hold on to its legitimacy ever since the cancellation of the 1991-92 elections, which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win. Thousands have been killed in the ensuing violence.

'After years and years of struggle for freedom of expression, social justice and human rights, the Algerian people have again been subjected to one-party rule,' said Said Saadi, leader of the Kabyle-backed Rally for Culture & Democracy, which boycotted the poll. 'Algeria is heading for a period of grave institutional instability.'

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