Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

New Algerian Law Clears the Way for Free Elections

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

New Algerian Law Clears the Way for Free Elections

Article excerpt

On April 2, the Algerian parliament passed a new election law establishing the timetable and ground rules for parliamentary elections scheduled for June 27. These will be Algeria's first free and democratic elections at the national level, following local elections held June 12, 1990.

These parliamentary elections will culminate a democratic process that began after the bloody riots of October 1988. The following spring, a new constitution was adopted and political parties were authorized, ending single-party rule by the National Liberation Front (FLN) ever since it led Algeria to independence in 1962.

The election law calls for registration of candidates between April 12 and May 11. The electoral campaign will begin on June 1 and end on June 19. More than 40 parties are expected to compete for 542 seats on election day.

A New Electoral Law

The new electoral law introduces four major novelties on the Algerian political scene. First, whereas the voting system was previously proportional, now it is a two-round system, patterned on the French electoral system. In a given electoral district, in the first round, all parties that have registered their candidates can compete for the seat. The candidate who gets more than 50 percent of the ballots wins. Where no candidate wins a clear majority, the top two candidates are allowed to compete again 21 days later in the second round. At this point, the candidate with the most votes wins the seat.

A second major novelty of the new law concerns proxy voting. Previously, any citizen could vote on behalf of members of his family by showing their voter's identity cards. Now a voter can only vote on behalf of another voter if the latter is on military duty, is very ill, or is an Algerian citizen living overseas.

The third novelty has to do with campaigning. Algerian political parties are forbidden from receiving foreign funding. It now also is forbidden to use mosque premises to hold political meetings or make political speeches. The new law imposes heavy penalties, including jail sentences, for breaking this rule.

The fourth and final novelty involves redistricting. The distribution of newly created electoral districts favors rural areas over cities, where the Islamic and Liberal parties are expected to realize good scores. Now a small southern town of 7,000 people has one member of Parliament just like the town of Blida, which has a population of more than 80,000 and is considered to be an Islamic stronghold.

The new law, written by the FLN government and passed by the all-FLN Parliament, is clearly meant to marginalize the Islamic Front of Salvation (FIS), winner of the June 1990 local elections. …

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