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Algeria’s Ennahda head says Gov’t Hijacked President’s reforms | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Algiers, Asharq Al-Awsat- Head of the Algerian branch of the Islamic Ennahda Movement, Fatah Rabiai has major reservations concerning the reforms promised by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, “Because the approach is wrong”: The starting point should have been the reform of the constitution, followed by amendments to laws governing the democratic process, not the opposite.

In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Rabiai revealed that he expects the fate of the “presidential alliance” [The National Liberation Front, the National Democratic Rally and the Islamic Movement for Peace] to be similar to that of the governments’ that have fallen to the Arab Spring.

“The Ennahda Movement” is considered as one of the main opposition parties in Algeria. It was founded by Abdallah Djaballah, one of the leaders of the Islamist current in the late 1980s. It enjoyed relatively a big support in the general elections of 1997.

Djaballah left the party to create another one. He was succeeded by Habib Adami, the current Algerian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who was succeed by Dr Rabiai, who spoke in the interview about the promised political reforms, the chances of the Islamists in the forthcoming general elections in the spring of 2012, and other issues that are related to the developments in the Arab world.

[ِAsharq Al-Awsat] President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised comprehensive political reforms which have led to changes in some laws. What are your thoughts on the matter?

[Rabiai] We, in the Ennahda Movement, have welcomed the president’s step the day he announced his intention to introduce reforms following the events of 5 January 2011. This step deserves praise because Algeria needs comprehensive and profound reforms in view of the fact that the legal framework on the basis of which the country is being run, particularly form a political point of view, is responsible for the current crisis, i.e. the constitution, the basic laws governing political activity such as the laws on parties and elections.

Secondly, the current institutions, particularly the legislative institution (parliament), are unable to deal with developments. They are represented by a group of parties which are a nothing but a token for sham pluralism. This has turned the legislative institution into an instrument in the hands of the executive power. It has become a mere chamber of registration and passing laws with no controlling power to dismiss the government and make accountable.

Because the institution of control is weak, the executive power is far less accountable, in spite of failures in the economic and social domains, the spread of corruption in the financial and administrative institutions, and repeated protest movements. This state of affairs calls for the rebuilding of state institutions on sound foundations, through fair and transparent elections. This will not be achieved without the reform of laws. It has to be pointed out that the present government and its party alliance are intent on driving the president’s determination for reforms out of its course. To do so, they resort to manoeuvres. Hence our demand that this government should be dismissed and replaced by a government of technocrats to supervise reforms on the one hand, and provide an appropriate climate for fair and free elections, on the other.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The president has said that he will amend the constitution. What do you expect from his amendments?

[Rabiai] Among Ennahda Movement’s reservations with regard to this issue is the wrong approach that had been adopted, which reversed the process by starting with the ordinary laws, then the regulatory law, and dealing with constitution at the end. This clearly contradicts the principle of the supremacy of the constitution, and the hierarchy of laws. As result, the Legal Affairs Commission at the parliament has faced a predicament when it found itself forced to reform laws that are linked to the constitution, which in turn needs to be reformed and amended. Hence, in the future, we will have the option of either basing the future constitution on these amended laws or adopting it to them, which is wrong, or we will be compelled to amend these laws again in order to comply with the future constitution. This is a waste of money and efforts.

This wrong approach will clearly fail. We think that we still have a chance to make these reforms succeed through the holding of free and fair elections. The parliament that would be elected as a result, would enjoy credibility and would amend the constitution.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is talk about Bouteflika’s intention to limit the presidential term to one renewable term?

[Rabiai] Our point of view on this issue is clear. We expressed it when the constitution was amended in 2008, when we voiced our reservations on the lifting of the limitation of the number of presidential terms, which were limited to two. We hope that the upcoming constitutional amendment will limit the presidential terms to two as stated in the constitution of 1996. The idea of the alternation of power, and responsibility, can only be achieved through the limitation of terms in office. The limitation of presidential terms is at the heart of the democratic system.

Studies have shown that a person’s energy is limited, and it is spent at the end of two terms, maximum. After that, the official needs rest in order to renew his or her energy. We have seen how limitless presidential terms were responsible for creating dictatorships and repression in the Arab world. This in turn led to youth revolutions, which have been costly to the social fabric, the political structure and the economic infrastructure.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] observers have noticed that President Bouteflika is keeping a low public profile .He only appears when receiving foreign guests. Why?

[Rabiai] I cannot enter into the world or rumors. It was said that the president will not finish his first term. He did finish it and went into a second and a third, of which two years remain. I wish the president good health to complete comprehensive and profound reforms, and overcome the will of those who wish the reforms to fail, and crown them with the holding of fair and free elections that will re-inject credibility into the political process, and rebuild strong state institutions that will meet the demands and the aspirations of the people and their preoccupation with the issues of freedom, development and justice.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] General elections are expected to be held in May 2012. Some say that they will largely be won by the “presidential alliance.” How do you expect the Ennahda Movement will fare in the elections?

[Rabiai] Every time they are held, elections are a chance to achieve one’s goals through a free and fair poll. Unfortunately, this chance is always missed in our Arab world because of fraud and tempering with the will of the electorate. Therefore, the authorities have killed people’s willingness to change things through the ballot box, and instilled in them despair and frustration, which in turn reflected in their behavior in every domain and in their failure to achieve the sought-after development.

If the elections are fair, the fate of the parties of the presidential alliance will be similar to the parties that ruled Arab countries where revolutions succeeded because of their failure. It [presidential alliance] has always used its influence on the administration, and used state means to ensure the election of its candidates. Hence it objected to removing the administration from the responsibility of organizing the elections, as it did refuse Article 93 of the election draft law, which demands the resignation of ministers running in the elections.

Our reading of the Algerian political scene confirms that if elections are held on the criteria of fairness and transparency, “Ennahda” would score a large victory. At the same time, the presidential alliance would be punished by the people and be defeated through the ballot box.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the impact of the victory of the Islamists in Tunisia on the Algerian political scene?

[Rabiai] It is certain that Arab countries influence each other negatively or positively. The blessed Algerian revolution, whose anniversary we will celebrate within the next few days, had an impact on the whole world. It is still inspiring Arab people and others. In spite of the fact that the Algerian youths were first to rebel on 5 October 1988, and as a result, Algeria went through a crisis that nearly destroyed everything whose fallout we are still witnessing today, in spite of all that, it is impossible for the flowers of the Arab Spring to blossom in Tunisia without their smell being felt in Algeria.

The uprising of the Tunisian youths was inspiring to the youths of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria. The success of the Tunisians in organizing fair and free elections, regardless of who won, is an inspiration and a model, particularly for the Arab Maghreb.

I will not exaggerate if I say that Algeria was there first with its revolution, its uprising, its experience of [political] pluralism, and in the transparency of elections too, in the freedom of the media and the press. Unfortunately, we failed to consolidate our gains, and we paid a high price for our mistakes. The wisest of men is who learns from his mistakes, consolidates his gains and learns from the experiences of other people.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why have Islamists performed poorly in recent elections recently in Algeria?

[Rabiai] One cannot talk about how the Islamist current has been doing in elections away from the storm that has swept Algeria, and which nearly destroyed everything. The crisis was very deep and impacted the whole of Algeria. Thank God we are getting out of it. During the time Algeria was first to establish pluralism, and its youths were first to rebel, the Islamist current was at the height of its strength, and had a chance that was not available to many others in many Arab countries. But the current, and along with it Algeria, paid the price of mistakes and conspiracy. The price was high at every level. I believe that the future of the Algerians will be better if they learn from their experience and overcome the causes of their failures.