Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gulf War Puts Algerian Democracy on Hold

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gulf War Puts Algerian Democracy on Hold

Article excerpt

ALGERIA was supposed to be in the middle of campaign season right now, with what were to be the country's first national multiparty elections.

Instead, much of the public is preoccupied with what is widely considered the destruction of Iraq, and the elections have fallen from the national agenda.

Instead of campaign posters, the most popular political statement these days are the graffiti of Iraqi Scud missiles sprouting in Algerian cities.

"For the time being the elections are of no interest to us," says Hocine Guermouche, chief spokesman for the Movement for Democracy in Algeria, the party of former Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella. "More important right now is the solidarity we are expressing as Arabs and as Muslims with the besieged Iraqi people."

The elections will return to "the top of the political agenda" once the war is over, "so the Algerian people can finally have a parliament that really represents them," Mr. Guermouche says.

Not all analysts of Algeria's political situation agree, however. Most say President Chadli Benjedid has taken advantage of the Gulf war and the agitation it has created in the country to put off elections his party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), was virtually certain to lose.

Mr. Chadli announced last year that he would dissolve the current all-FLN People's National Assembly and call elections in the first quarter of 1991. The elections were then put off to June. Observers say they are now unlikely before the fall, if then.

Algeria's government was already largely discredited by disastrous economic and social conditions. The Gulf war and its aftermath are likely to slow, if not halt, further democratic initiatives, analysts say, while also stopping the economic reform program that was based on foreign - mostly Western - investment and joint ventures. …

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