Algeria seeks legitimacy

Election: A chance to end dictatorship and seven years of murder and anarchy.

April 13, 1999

THE VOTE for president Thursday gives Algeria a chance to end the dreadful murder and strife that have gripped it since the last election was annulled in 1992. The terrorists of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) have not agreed to it, but the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) has. A credible result could create a legitimacy terrorists could not overthrow.

President Liamine Zeroual, a general picked by generals, is stepping out 18 months before the end of his term to make the election possible. There are seven announced candidates, and some real campaigning has taken place.

Also, real politicking. Four parties decided to back Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who came out of exile to run and is favored by the military. He is the former long-serving foreign minister of the National Liberation Front regime, which governed Algeria after its revolution as a secularist, militarist, socialist and culturally French ruling elite. He is a figure from the past, perhaps not so reassuring to foreign observers, but the favorite to win according to such opinion polls as there have been.

The exciting development was the action of FIS, putative winner seven years ago, in telling people to vote, and for whom to vote. It favors the most Islamic candidate, Taleb Ibrahimi. The outlawing of the FIS provoked the murderous onslaught by the more extremist GIA, which has targeted journalists, ethnic Berbers, pop singers and ordinary villagers. What the FIS can produce now, if not a winner, is legitimacy.

Peace and democracy are not assured. But this is the most hopeful possibility Algeria has had in seven years.

Pub Date: 4/14/99

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