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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Algeria: Current Issues

Carol Migdalovitz
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

After a 1965 coup, the military became the most significant political force in Algeria. In 1992, it carried out another coup to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) from coming to power, leading to a decade of war between security forces and Islamist terrorists. In 1999, former Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a civilian with military backing, won the presidential election after all other candidates withdrew, charging fraud. In April 2004, he was reelected with 83.5% of the vote in a multiparty contest; the military was officially neutral. International observers hailed that election as progress toward democratization even though the bureaucracy and judiciary had manipulated the political process to favor Bouteflika in the pre-election period. Many saw Bouteflika's victory as an accurate reflection of the popular will and an endorsement of his effort to decrease violence and for continued political stability.1 There have been persistent rumors about the 72-year-old president's health since 2005, but no apparent concern that he lacks a clear successor. The military probably will play a role in the choice of Bouteflika's replacement. 

In November 2008, a joint session of parliament adopted constitutional amendments that, among other provisions, abolished presidential term limits and allowed Bouteflika to run for a third term. A huge salary increase for legislators may have spurred the amendments' passage by 500 out of 529 cast. Some critics had argued that the constitutional changes required a national referendum, but the Constitutional Court disagreed. Hence, on April 9, 2009, Bouteflika as expected won another term as president with more than 90.24% of the vote over five challengers, none of whom was seen as having a remote chance of ending his leadership. The Interior Ministry claimed a 74% voter turnout. Once again, the President's rivals alleged fraud and that the authorities had inflated turnout figures. Some attributed the military's acquiescence this time to their inability to find an alternative to Bouteflika.2 

The President heads the Council of Ministers (cabinet) and the High Security Council, and appoints the prime minister. On June 23, 2008, Bouteflika named National Democratic Assemblage (RND) leader Ahmed Ouyahia, who had served as prime minister from 1995 to 1999 and from 2003 to 2006 and who is known to be close to the military, to the post again. After his re-election in 2009, Bouteflika reconfirmed Ouyahia as prime minister. Ouyahia is considered a possible successor to Bouteflika. Media reports suggest that Bouteflika's younger brother, Said, also may have presidential ambitions. 

The bicameral, multiparty parliament is weak. The 380-seat National People's Assembly was last elected on May 17, 2007, with a voter turnout of 36.5% – the lowest ever, reflecting lack of popular faith in the political system. Parties in the governing coalition placed at the top: the FLN won 23% of the vote and 136 seats; the RND 10.3%, 61 seats; and the moderately Islamist Movement for a Peaceful Society (MSP) 9.6%, 51 seats; 18 other parties and 33 independents also won seats. The Council of Nations has 144 seats, one-third appointed by the president and two-thirds selected by indirect vote. FLN has 29 seats, RND 12, MSP 3; independents and presidential appointees also are represented

Date of Report: January 21, 2010
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RS21532
Price: $29.95

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