Monday, April 05, 2004

Algeria: John Simpson on the election

The presidential election is on April 8 ... and therefore, some interesting analysis pieces are hitting the papers.

Lets start with one penned by John Simpson, the BBC's World Affairs Editor, in the April 4 edition of the Telegraph.
Gen Muhammed Lamari, the head of the armed forces, recently told a news conference that there were originally 27,000 active guerrillas operating in Algeria; now there were only 600, and they had ceased to be a real threat. How precisely this result was achieved is the issue that now divides the country politically - and may lead to President Bouteflika's defeat in the election that starts this coming week.

The army leadership - le pouvoir - disliked the idea of an amnesty for Islamists and was deeply reluctant to give up control of the big state-run industries that were so profitable to them and so valueless in serving the public interest.

As a result, le pouvoir and Mr Bouteflika's own SLN [must be typo -- it should be FNL] party (which controlled the war of liberation against the French, and won independence for Algeria 42 years ago) are backing the prime minister, Ali Benflis, as presidential candidate against Mr Bouteflika.

The army, meanwhile, has promised to stay neutral, and the soldiers will be free to vote at polling stations instead of in their barracks, under the eyes of their commanders. This will be the first election in Algeria where the result will not be known in advance.

.... Many of the real Islamic extremists have long ago left Algeria. The young people left have to make a living in a country that will soon run out of its only real advantage, oil and gas, and whose economy is still stuck in the big-statist habits of the 1970s.

President Bouteflika understands this; his army and his former party colleagues do not.