BEIRUT

Middle East

Algeria's Islamists predict top finish in election

Abdelmadjid Menasra, leader of the Algerian Front for Change (FC) party delivers a speech during a campaign meeting of the FC party at the Harcha Hall in Algiers on May 5, 2012. Algerians go to the polls on May 10 for legislative elections. (AFP PHOTO / FAROUK BATICHE)

ALGIERS, Algeria: An alliance of Algerian Islamist parties predicted Monday its bloc would win the most seats in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Abou Djara Soltani, the head of the Movement of Society for Peace, one of three parties in the alliance, cited polling data and research done by the parties showing Algerians were ready for a change.

"If the election is clean and fair, the alliance will be the top force in the 2012-2017 parliament," he said.

Algerians go to the polls on Thursday to elect a new parliament amid a government campaign promising political reforms under the new parliament and urging people to vote.

Algerians, however, have expressed a lack of faith in their political system and in 2007 elections, there was an official turnout of 35 percent.

Soltani said he would be happy with a turnout of 45 percent, which had earlier been suggested by Abdelaziz Belkhadem, the head of a government party, as an acceptable target for participation.

Soltani, whose MSP party made an alliance with the smaller al-Nahda and al-Islah parties ahead of elections, said their research during the three week campaign found people were deeply discontented over the lack of jobs and housing and blamed the two main government parties, which currently hold the most seats in parliament, for their troubles.

Elsewhere in North Africa, Islamist parties have dominated elections over the past year. However the leaders of the two government parties in this oil and gas rich nation have predicted an "Algerian exception" and say people will choose continuity over change.

In 1991, an Islamist party was poised to win parliamentary elections until the military stepped in, canceled elections and banned the party, plunging the country into a decade-long civil war that cost 200,000 lives.

Belkhadem and other members of the two pro-government parties have urged people to vote for them in the coming elections to avoid a return to the bloodshed of the 1990s.

Soltani, however, said Algeria was not immune to the pro-democracy Arab Spring in the region and instead the country "will have spring thgrough the ballot box."

While the powers of the parliament are dwarfed by the presidency, it is expected to have a role in drafting a new constitution for the country as part of the reform program.

With 44 parties to choose from, most observers predict a fragmented body.

 

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