PRESIDENT Liamine Zeroual's idea was that a parliamentary election in Algeria would confer credibility on his regime and repudiate the Islamic extremists whose civil war has taken 60,000 lives in five years. More than two-thirds of eligible Algerians turned out last Thursday in a demonstration for legitimacy and against terror.
The party winning the most seats in the National Assembly was the National Democratic Rally, which President Zeroual created as an afterthought to sever his connection from the National Liberation Front (NLF), which had ruled Algeria since independence. A moderate, tolerated Islamic opposition party came in second and the NLF third, giving Mr. Zeroual's supporters a coalition majority.
But the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which had won the election five years ago only to be outlawed, was not allowed to run. It called for a boycott. The shadowy Armed Islamic Group (GIA) threatened would-be voters with death. After the vote, several disparate opposition parties protested vote fraud.
President Zeroual represents the military, secular and socialist tradition of the NLF, whose long guerrilla war brought Algeria independence in 1962. He is trying to shed its ossified legacy for the nation of 28 million that sells vast amounts of oil and gas to southern Europe.
Algeria's terrorists are among the world's most vicious, its extremists among the world's most intolerant. They are hardly representative of a society strongly permeated by French culture. More than Islamic zeal, the FIS appeal five years ago reflected dissatisfaction with economic failure, corruption and stagnation.
Nonetheless, oppression of Islamic politics made extremism grow, not diminish. This election, more open than some, was not open enough -- and likely failed to drive a wedge between Islamic Algerians and the extremists.
Pub Date: 6/09/97