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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 May 2007, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Algerians vote under violent shadow
By Richard Hamilton
BBC News, Algiers

FLN graffiti on a wall
The reconciliation process has not really worked, say observers
Algerians go to the polls on Thursday amid tight security in elections that will determine the make up of parliament.

It was the cancellation of parliamentary elections in 1992 that sparked more of than a decade of civil war in which more than 150,000 people died.

In these elections, more than 24 political parties are fielding more than 1,000 candidates for the National Assembly.

At present there is a coalition between the original party that fought for independence, the National Liberation Front (FLN), the Democratic National Rally (RND) and the Movement for Society and Peace (MSP).

These parties are expected to retain the lion's share of power.

This election is just a reshuffling of the political pack of cards
ICG's Hugh Roberts

Thursday's poll will be conducted under the watchful eye of the security services as the threat of terror attacks hangs over the country.

Last month, 33 people died and more than 200 were injured when bombs exploded outside the prime minister's office and a police station in Algiers.

An organisation calling itself al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said it carried out the bombings.

Terror

Algeria's former prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, says the danger of terrorism cannot be discounted.

RND poster
Little separates the main parties unlike in 1992

"The threat is here every day," he said.

"We suffered from terrorism for 15 years. Now any criminals can carry out criminal acts but the country is not in the situation it was in the 1990s. Now we are only fighting against 200-300 people. The battle is still going on but the battle will be won."

Since the real power in Algeria resides not in parliament but in the executive, these elections are not that important in themselves.

Turnout is not expected to be high because many Algerians do not believe the politicians will make much difference to their lives.

Hugh Roberts from the International Crisis Group believes parliament is really only a facade for the power which lies in the hands of the president and the military.

"This election is just a reshuffling of the political pack of cards," he said.

"There is some political pluralism but the regime still carries on in a sense regardless."

But what is significant about these elections is the country's movement away from a violent past - memories of the civil war are still fresh in people's minds.

The war was triggered when the military-backed government cancelled parliamentary elections just as it looked inevitable that an Islamist party, the FIS, would win.

Reconciliation

The vote is really a barometer of how far the country has come since the end of that war and the process of national reconciliation that followed.

Algiers
The threat of attacks cannot be discounted

In 1999 and again in 2005 Algerians signed up to a reconciliation process orchestrated by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

It seems to have helped bring the nation together and heal some of the wounds of the country's bloody past, but it has been criticized by human rights groups for ignoring the feelings of victims' families and covering up acts taken by the security forces in a so-called "dirty war".

Ihsane El Kadi, who is a journalist for the El Watan newspaper, summed up a lot of the grievances against the reconciliation process.

"Reconciliation is a good idea but it has not worked in reality because it was imposed on us by the president and no-one asked the opinions of ordinary people," he said.

"The families of the victims did not know who they had to forgive because they were never told who killed their relatives or made them 'disappear'.

"The process could have worked but it did not."




SEE ALSO
Q&A: Algerian election
15 May 07 |  Africa
Algeria fighting leaves 15 dead
08 Apr 07 |  Africa
Islamists battle Algeria's army
30 Jan 07 |  Africa

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