Algerian Islamist Party Leader Plays the Secular Card

Article Summary
In an interview with El-Khabar, Algerian Islamist Justice and Development Front leader Abdallah Djaballah outlines his political agenda and offers an exclusive look into his personal political struggles. He stresses the importance of transparency and independent supervision in the upcoming Algerian parliamentary elections, set for May 10.

Sheikh Abdallah Djaballah, the head of the newly-established Justice and Development Front in Algeria, has called for the formation of an independent committee of human-rights activists, political activists and journalists to oversee and supervise the parliamentary elections to be held on May 10, 2012. He believes that an independent committee would be more efficient than the current committees, which are affiliated with the administrative and judicial sectors. In his view, “the judiciary lacks credibility, and the administrative sector is not a platform that guarantees the transparency of the parliamentary poll.”

In his interview with El-Khabar, Djaballah held the regime responsible for his experience in the Ennahda Islamic Renaissance and Al-Islah (Movement for National Reform) parties. Djaballah vowed to accept the result of the parliamentary elections, and urged others “to adopt the same approach.” By “others,” he meant the secularists wary of Islamists reaching power. He noted, “Should the Justice and Development Front assume power, it will make sure to respect all non-Islamist political players and protect their right to practice politics.” As for current attempts to unite the Islamist fronts in Algeria, Djaballah believes these efforts are to no avail. He says that his statements stem from former experiences which proved that it was impossible to form such an alliance, but that it is possible to unite the Islamist voice by coordinating among the Islamist parties.

Djaballah said that the authority  targeted him personally while he was in the Ennahda and Al-Islah parties. “Accepting military personnel in our party is not intended to reassure the authority.”

Abdallah Djaballah denied claims that former officers and military personnel, namely former officer Ahmed Azimi, joined his party. His denial was a political signal, intended to reassure the authority and mitigate its fears about his political orientation.

He confirmed that “contrary to what many believe, the main issue is allowing everyone to participate in the Justice and Development Front’s political agenda. However, we will only welcome those who have a clean past, strong moral character and who are ready to abide by the laws and regulations of the party.” He noted that he will not reject outright those who want to take part in the political process simply because of their military past. He added that the regime knows the leadership and the members of the party, so there is no need to give the government any further reassurances.

Djaballah blamed the regime for his former experiences in the Ennahda and the Al-Islah parties. Mistakes were made during his tenure that led to his resignation from these parties, and he accused the regime of attacking the parties and targeting him personally. In this regard, he noted that “on each occasion the regime found a vulnerable group of people to carry out a conspiracy against me.” He added that, due to current political circumstances, the regime will not resort to the same tactics it had adopted previously. Djaballah admitted that he had committed mistakes during his time as the head of both parties, though he refused to list them. He stressed that he has learned from his past mistakes and plans to avoid committing similar ones as the head of the Justice and Development Front.

On a different note, Djaballah added that he chooses not to focus on the statements made by the so-called “democratic parties”. In his view, these political parties “are the least likely to respect others and hold dialogue with him, even though they claim to defend freedoms and protect human rights and democracy.” He refused to respond to the accusations leveled against him by Louisa Hanoune, secretary general of the Labor Party, in which she claimed that he is a US agent and receives money from foreign bodies.

He expressed his disappointment over the failure to form an Islamist alliance, saying,
“Batsheen said in the 1997 elections, ‘I never want to see Djaballah.’”

Djaballah said that “since 1974 I have established only one single party.” He held a number of government officials responsible for his decision to emerge with a new party every time. He clarified his point by saying that “I established only one party; however, throughout the years I changed its name.” Djaballah criticized the political parties that pledge allegiance to the regime and are redesigning their practices. He said, “These parties are intimidated by the presence of a strong political force in the arena. We are convinced that our plan will succeed because that is what God desires for us, and it is what is best for the people.”

Answering a question regarding his previous statement, he said: “Someone misinformed [Algerian] President Abdelaziz Bouteflika [about my intentions], which led to the government imposing restrictions on me while I was the head of the Al-Islah Party. That is related to a specific moment in time and was about a specific issue. Today we have closed this chapter and opened a new one.” He added, “I hope such measures and situations do not take place again,” and “the formation of the Justice and Development Front adds significance and strength to Algeria.”

Djaballah did not hide his fears of the possibility of fraudulent elections or suspicious activities that might influence the election process. Referring to [President] Bouteflika’s assurances to the Islamists [about granting amnesty to Islamist prisoners captured during the 1992-2002 Algerian civil war], he said “that these [assurances] are merely ink on paper.” Based his past experiences, Djaballah explained that the president gives orders but the administration does not implement them. Djaballah revealed, for the first time, that General Muhammad Batsheen, security advisor to former President Liamine Zeroual, said, “I never want to see Djaballah,” as proof of a conspiracy planned against the Islamist party leader.

“A retired officer visited me at my house and informed me that we [the Islamists] won the 1997 elections,” Djaballah claimed, though he doubted the possibility of an Islamist alliance’s success in Algeria. In this regard, he said, “an alliance is a big step forward, but it is hard to implement.” When asked why, he answered: “We were attempting to form an alliance in 1974, and have been seeking to implement this plan for ten years. However, our efforts were in vain. Now I have become desperate because of these failed attempts.” He noted that an alliance contradicts with “the most important principal, which is the principal of disagreeing.”

Djaballah called on other parties in the Islamist trend “to stop rallying one party against the other.” He did not rule out the possibility of sending an Islamist group to monitor the elections, but reiterated that “the desired alliance will never be formed anyway.”

Djaballah called for the formation of an independent committee because the judiciary system “lacks credibility,” saying that, “The regime deceived Algerians in the 1997 and 1999 elections.”

Djaballah called for replacing the judicial and political committees appointed to monitor the elections with an independent committee to supervise the entire process. He criticized the reputation of the judiciary system, which he claimed is incapable of ensuring the integrity of the elections due to its submission to the executive authority.

The head of the Justice and Development Front believes that the authorities do not provide enough guarantees for the elections, particularly in ensuring that the elections will be transparent. His biggest concern is the number of voters registered in the election committee’s documents: Djaballah said that 21 million registered Algerian voters “represents a significantly inflated number compared to other countries, such as Morocco, whose population is similar to Algeria’s. In those countries, the list of registered voters does not exceed 15 million. From where did they get these extra millions?”. He added, “Since the administration has a role in the elections, and the interior ministry is the one responsible for counting the votes and announcing the results, then that means that there are high chances that they will rig the citizen vote.”

Djaballah, who was a presidential candidate in the 2004 elections, wants to keep the administration and the judiciary out of the election process and its supervision because, he said, “they would jeopardize the credibility of the elections.” Djaballah further clarified, “My convictions are based on my former experiences. It is not in any way directed against any person. Make the judiciary a function, rather than an authority. The regime appointed the president to be the primary judge in the country, his deputy as a justice minister, and placed the fate of the judiciary system at their disposal. As a result, the regime is harming the credibility of the judiciary system.” Accordingly, Djaballah calls for the formation of an independent committee to oversee and monitor the entire election process. As previously stated, he says that the committee should be made up of human rights activists, political activists, and journalists.

The head of the Justice and Development Front revealed that the President’s and the interior minister’s promises to respect the will of the people, regardless of the results, may be “a sign of goodwill, but current preparations surrounding the elections are not very promising.”

“I clearly remember when President Liamine Zeroual issued two directives in both the 1997 and 1999 elections, calling for respecting the will of the voters and ensuring the integrity of the elections. But these were only words meant to deceive the Algerians,” he added.

Djaballah vowed to accept the outcome of the elections. He said, “I will be the first one to congratulate the winners and I hope that everyone will do the same if the Justice and Development Front wins. Right now, our priority is having fair elections. Whoever wins is secondary at this moment.”No objection to the formation of a neutral governmentAbdallah Djaballah does not seem enthused at the idea of having an impartial government monitoring the elections. However, he confirmed that this does not affect the situation as a whole anyway, “because the administration is planning for fraudulent elections and intends to fully control the election process.” He said that the solution is the formation of an independent committee to oversee the election process, from voter registration to supervising the elections. He said that the administration would be a logistical support for the independent committee.

“I do not have a Facebook page.”

Djaballah said that he does not have a page on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. He said that he still resorts to traditional ways of communication, even though social networking websites facilitate communication with people and can be used to promote his political campaign during the elections. These websites could be used as platforms to put forward the ideas of his party and communicate with his supporters. He noted that his children are very much involved in technology.

Justice and Development Party weak in the countryside

Djaballah said that his newly-established party “is a political party that seeks comprehensive reform.” As for the choice of his party’s name, he said, “we noticed that the country is dealing with many issues related to the weak justice system and development, i.e. justice in its broadest meaning.”

We are the most capable of protecting the interests of our nation

Djaballah said that Algeria is “in need of Islamists. We can that no other can offer. We are the most capable of protecting the rights and interests of the people. If I was not confident about that, I would have stayed out of the limelight.”

The regime is required to respect different viewpoints

Djaballah vowed to respect all political forces if the majority elects his party. He noted, “We will grant all forces the right to engage in politics, even if we do not agree with their rhetoric. Rhetoric is not a reason to strip them of their right to be politically active. The regime is required to respect differences in opinions and stances.”

Found in: poltical reforms, islamists, islamist alliance, islamist, fraudulent elections, democracy, algerian parliamentary elections

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