Algerian Islamists agree on alliance ahead of vote

February 26, 2012 - 4:05 PM

ALGERIA, Algeria (AP) — Algeria's main Islamist parties have agreed to run as an alliance in May's parliamentary elections, boosting their chances of taking the largest number of seats, a party leader announced Sunday.

The alliance of three of the country's fractious Islamist parties increases the likelihood of Algeria following in the steps of three other North African countries where Islamists have recently triumphed at the ballot box.

Abou Djara Soltani of the Movement of Society for Peace, Algeria's largest Islamist party, also invited other like-minded parties to join the alliance "to give the best possible chance for the Arab Spring to happen in Algeria as well."

There are a total of seven Islamist parties — four recently approved by the government.

Elections held in the aftermath of the pro-democracy uprisings that have swept the Middle East in the past year have resulted in Islamist-dominated parliaments in Morocco, Tunisia and especially Egypt.

Soltani's party and the al-Nahda and al-Islah parties, which together hold 72 seats in the 289-member parliament, will discuss presenting a single list of candidates and coordinating the placement of observers in polling stations.

Most of the rest of the seats are held by two secular, government-affiliated parties.

Algeria's secular authorities have dismissed the chances of an Islamist triumph, saying the public is suspicious of religious parties.

The last time an Islamist party was poised to win parliamentary elections here was in 1992, prompting a military coup that sparked off a civil war between security forces and Islamist militants. Some 200,000 people died.

To this day, security forces continue to battle remnants of these insurgents, who declared allegiance to al-Qaida in 2006.

The government, which is backed by the same generals who carried out the coup, has put the blame for the "national tragedy" squarely on the Islamic Salvation Front party, which remains banned to this day.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and other top officials have said what they fear more than an Islamist victory is apathy at the May 10 polls. Turnout in the 2007 elections was only 36 percent.

Unlike its North African neighbors Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the demonstrations in Algeria did not culminate into a widespread anti-government movement.

There is, however, widespread discontent in this oil and gas rich nation of 35 million, with constant small protests across the country over the lack of housing, utilities and police brutality.