Head of Algerian Political Party Warns of Vote Buying, Calls on State to Provide Equal Funding to New Parties

Article Summary
The head of Algeria’s Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Al-Saeed, defends his party’s independence and speaks out against bribery in the run-up to Algeria’s legislative elections. He warns of an “explosion” should the election fail to be free and fair. Interview and reporting by Mohammad Sharrak, Hamid Yess, Jamal F, Othman Lehiani.

The Head of Algeria's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Mohamed Al-Saeed, has refused to call his party part of the Islamist trend. Some [analysts] argue that the best argument in support of his claim is that efforts to synchronize [Algerian] Islamist parties - in the hopes of having them form unified lists in the upcoming elections - did not include the FJP. In an interview with El-Khabar,  Al-Saeed brought up the issue of political funding, and the negative role bribery was playing in influencing voter choices. He stated that replacing the current government with a technocratic administration for the electoral period might not necessarily ensure transparent voting, unless there is an expression of real political will to allow voters the freedom to choose their parliamentary representatives. He warned of an “explosion” if the elections end in disappointment.

Al-Saeed said, “Algeria cannot be ruled by a single political party,” stressing that, “[all] political forces should follow a common consensus and everyone must be involved in running the country.” Al-Saeed based his position on events in Algeria since the country’s independence [from France in 1962].

Al-Saeed refused to pigeonhole his party “into a specific category” when he was asked whether the FJP was an Islamist, Democratic or National Party - or even an amalgam of these three. He added that political categorization is “a concept imported from the West and applied to our societies.” Al-Saeed explained that he founded his party “as a result of studying 50 years of the Algerian experience under a single party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), the only organized political party [at the time of independence]. The party excluded all other currents until 1988, when demonstrations erupted in protest of the monopoly of power.”

“When we entered the phase of political plurality, we found out that the only party prepared to rule was the ‘Salvation Front’. However, it did not learn from [the mistakes of] the FLN, and tried to monopolize power as well. The [Salvation] Front made use a fear-based rhetoric which required the intervention of the military [into social life]. Then, another alliance formed by democratic parties was formed. [This alliance] excluded the Islamist and National currents until 2000,” he said.

Al-Saeed warned of the [consequences] of a continued monopoly on power. He explained that no party could be excluded from participating in the management of the affairs of state, and that “any such exclusion can be considered a threat to [Algeria’s] stability.” He added that his party “aims to become the unifying framework for all sides that share a common ground and refuse to exclude anyone. [This framework] will include national, Islamic, democratic and modernizing dimensions.” When asked what differentiates his parties from others, he replied, “We are planning to build an effective party that fulfills its promises and [accepts] to be held accountable to the people. The others have been around longer but they did not accomplish anything, and we are learning from their mistakes.”

Al-Saeed explained that during the presidential elections of April 2009 he succeeded in his goal of promoting his party. From the start, he announced that his plan was not to win the election, knowing that the [results] had already been decided by the 2008 constitutional amendment. He added, “I already stated that I was not interested in electoral results, and I honestly explained to the people that my goal was to advocate for the party.” Al-Saeed also commented on the 2009 electoral results: “Not one out of the five candidate received the announced results. I felt ashamed that five candidates together received a total of 9% of the vote, while the sixth received 90%.”

Al-Saeed said that he had not been asked to be a part of the “Islamic Bloc” initiative to form unified lists in the next parliamentary elections. When questioned on the subject he said, “No individual or organization has contacted us about this issue.” He expressed his reservations over such political [tactics], adding, “I see no use for such alliances.”

Al-Saeed said, “we have not yet decided if we will participate in the upcoming elections. However, if we do take such a decision during our next meeting, we will only run in the limited number of states where we have a chance to win.” [He explained that] the issue was discussed in last week’s National Bureau meeting. “We took into consideration the effects of the delays in receiving aid [from the government] and the lack of a [party] headquarters. We also took the advice of our members, as some of them asked for a limited symbolic participation in the elections and increased focus instead on the upcoming local elections in October,” he added.

The Head of the FJP was asked why he would not use the legislative election to [simply] promote his party in a manner similar to the last presidential elections. He answered, “Legislative elections require financial resources, and ours are very limited. For example, our last conference was funded by the participants (each gave 5,000 Dinars) and by our founders (each gave 10,000 Dinars.)” Al-Saeed said that he would not personally run in the upcoming elections, preferring to give a chance to the younger generation. He was also asked about the opposition parties’ demands to change the current government, and the formation of a new, neutral government. Al-Saeed explained, “This demand is nothing new, it has been made during every election. We should not wager on governmental change or on the appointment of so and so. This issue is linked to political will.” In other words: The formation of a neutral government [must emanate from] consultations with the political class. He stated that the current government is partisan, and that appointing a technocratic government would not change the situation because those who would be chosen will be state employees that follow the orders [of the current regime].

Al-Saeed criticized the “double standards” of the government in offering financial aid to old parties and [not] to newly-formed parties.  He added that the difference in resources between the two groups could make political funding the deciding factor of next elections.

The FJP made a statement last week on the limited resources of new parties, and asked the government to support them financially. Al-Saeed explained that financial aid is not about direct [monetary help], but rather about giving political parties their own headquarters. He stated, “Our party has no offices in any city, even though the elections are around the corner. This is a critical obstacle and we ask the government to help us acquire headquarter at preferential public rates because we cannot afford paying the full commercial price of private apartments.”

He noted that the parties which are a part of the [Islamic] alliance have received [several estates] to use as headquarters in the capital and [the regions]. He asked the government to do the same for newly formed parties, stating that the central headquarters of the prime minister’s party “has many floors that could house all the different parties.”

Concerning the view that political money - in the form of bribes to voters - might tilt the election in favor of certain parties, Al-Saeed said “I am against political money. Our party will not participate in the elections by using shakara [a common synonym for dirty money in local dialect.]”

He added, “the government would fail the Algerians if it stood idly by, watching the buying of votes. Its silence on these unethical actions will harm the credibility, integrity and transparency of the electoral process that has been guaranteed by the government.” Al-Saeed, the former General Secretary of the Loyalty and Justice Movement (which the regime refused to acknowledge under the pretext that it included members of the Islamic Salvation Front) pointed out that he had information on current negotiations underway for a buying of the top spot on the electoral list of several parties. However, he did not know in which specific parties this was happening.

Concerning the composition of the future parliament, Al-Saeed declared, “It depends on what the regime wants out of the next elections. Does it simply want new faces without any real change? Or will it respond to the demands for real change? The second choice requires opening the political arena and accepting the results of the election, no matter what they are.” He added, “It is true that the president and the minister of the interior promised a clean election that would respect the will of the Algerians. But we need real actions on the ground to test the credibility of the regime, and [it needs to show] how serious it is in stopping [the buying of votes].”

Al-Saeed said that Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi [an Algerian intellectual and FLN politician], “is not an islamsit according to current definitions of Islamism. He is open, tolerant and very ethical. I have known him for forty years. If I had to make a choice between politics and our friendship, then I would choose our friendship with no hesitation. I wish all people were like him and had the same qualities that he inherited from his father, Sheikh Bashir Ibrahimi.”

Al-Saeed said, “the current revolutions in the region represent the Arab people’s desire for freedom after decades of oppression and deprivation. However, there is also an international exploitation of this desire, that is trying to circumvent [the revolutions’ aims] and push them towards [the achievement of] one specific goal.” He added, “the situation in Syria is more complex. [It is the target] of a media campaign and political attacks that do not reflect the reality on the ground. Syria in the past hindered the implementation of US policy in the region, especially [its plan for a new] Greater Middle East. In addition, if [President] Bashar al-Assad were to give a speech and reconsider his relations with Iran and Hezbollah, the White House would appreciate this move and call for a ceasing of the violence in Syria.”

Al-Saeed explained, “The regime has gotten stronger because the political class has stood by and has not confronted it. Such a confrontation should take the form of a determined, relentless struggle in the street, even when threatened by force.” He explained that politicians in Algeria “are quick to surrender, and they do not fully play their role. Politics should be based on making hard choices. [Politicians can not stand] idly by, because no regime will accept to stand down on its own. [A regime] will refuse any demands unless there is another force [pressuring it].”

Al-Saeed warned of possible “disappointment” if the Algerians were to feel that the next election did not fulfill their desires for change. He expected, “an explosion, which would be a loss to all of us, if the voters’ choices are not respected.”

Al-Saeed believes that Algeria will still require a ten year transitional period following ammendments to the constitution. He proposed the implementation of a mixed parliamentary system within the framework of the next constitution. This will give the winning party the right to form a government while maintaining the National Assembly. It will also preserve the president’s one-third share in government [seats], reserved [in order to] protect minority rights, block the majority from political abuse and safeguard political balance and consensus. He added that this constitutional framework could be used in the transitional period, in which discussion and dialogue would be opened between all political forces so that they can agree on a full parliamentary system. He also proposed to include former heads of state in the Constitutional Council, and to limit of the president’s mandate to one term, renewable only once. 

Found in: vote buying, mohamed al-saeed, freedom and justice party, algerian politics, algerian elections

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