Algeria: Abdallah Djaballah – ‘military likely to postpone elections’

By Rania Hamdi, in Algiers
Posted on Monday, 21 October 2019 14:29

Sheikh Abdallah Djaballah, head of FJD-Adala, which will not present a candidate in Algeria's 12 December elections. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

Abdallah Djaballah, leader of the Algerian Islamist party FJD-Adala, has announced his party will not present a candidate in the presidential election on 12 December. He believes the protest movement can gain ground without the use of violence and civil disobedience.

Since the beginning of the protest movement, Abdallah Djaballah has been active in several joint initiatives involving part of the political opposition. The most notable is the “Forces pour le Changement“, which held about 20 meetings between 20 February – two days before the first mass demonstration against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime – and 3 July.

The Front de la Justice et du Développement (FJD-Adala) is now faced with the question of whether or not to participate in the presidential elections on 12 December. While the party has already chosen not to present a candidate, the issue of a general boycott of the elections will be decided in the next few weeks. Interviewed in his office in Algiers in early October, Djaballah, the president of the Islamist party, said he was very concerned about the turn of events in the country. He hopes that the army will agree to postpone the election and “return sovereignty to the people”.

You have always argued in favour of ending the crisis through elections. However, your group does not intend to present a candidate for the presidential election on 12 December. Why not?

Abdallah Djaballah: We believe this election is part of a plan by those in power to perpetuate the system rejected by the people. Based on this observation, the members of the party’s national council mandated the president of FJD-Adala, the president of the advisory council and the political bureau to adopt a final position, depending on future developments on the political scene: either call for a vote or opt for a boycott – or another solution. We still have time to make our decision.

We will not present any candidates because […] the ideals of the people’s revolution […] are not matched in the path followed by the system

However, we will not present any candidates because the FJD is working tirelessly to achieve the ideals of the people’s revolution and its just and legitimate demands. These are not matched in the path followed by the system.

What could convince you to participate?

We are banking on the continuation of the hirak [protest movement] and on strengthening the mobilisation. We are working hard to achieve this. We hope that the people returning to the streets in large numbers will lead us to a change that will guarantee all the conditions for an open election.

What if it doesn’t?

We will answer that when the time comes. Either we opt for a boycott or we let our activists decide for themselves.

In your opinion, what are the possible scenarios for the presidential election on 12 December?

Two scenarios are possible. Either the military institution successfully organises elections, as occurred in 1995: in this case, the current system will remain in place and the people will continue their revolution, supported by the forces of change, until their demands are met.

If events continue at this pace […] it is very likely the military will respond positively to the people’s demands and postpone the presidential election

Or the hirak becomes stronger and imposes its solutions. There are many indications that this will be the case. For several Fridays in a row, the mobilisation has been increasing. On 4 October in particular, the movement gained momentum in the capital and in many other parts of the country. If events continue at this pace, and if the scale of mobilisation returns to what it was last February or March, it is very likely that the military institution will respond positively to the people’s demands and postpone the presidential election. Then a sovereign and comprehensive dialogue will be initiated, leading to real political reforms and effective mechanisms that can guarantee a transparent election.

The military could also persist in organising the presidential election, regardless of the sacrifices made. This will leave the doors wide open to the unknown. Personally, I prefer the scenario of postponing the election and I prefer to engage in an alternative and comprehensive dialogue.

With whom and on what basis?

We have set out our vision at the meetings of Forces pour le Changement. Our roadmap is based on the conviction that what’s happening in the country is a real revolution, not a cyclical mobilisation. The slogan “Qu’il dégage tous!” [“Out with then all!”] has a deep meaning, that of contributing to the departure of all the symbols of the regime that have captured the institutions of the State and diverted the popular will to serve their narrow interests.

We wanted the military institution to support the protesters’ demands for the departure of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika by setting up a collegial presidency. But not only that. We also called for the departure of Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui and his replacement by a government of national competency. Thirdly, it was necessary to set up a commission to review the electoral law, and finally to create a truly independent electoral supervision and organisation body.

Under no circumstances were the people who were part of the current system to join these different bodies, which were called upon to manage the country for a period of six months. If we had been heard at the time, the presidential election would have already taken place.

Do you think that the constitutional solution adopted complicated the crisis?

The vision those in power have of the constitutional solution is limited to the application of Article 102 of the Basic Law. However, we believe that the activation of this provision without the application of articles 7 and 8, which provide for the return of sovereignty to the people, cannot resolve an unusual or even exceptional situation.

Article 102 stipulates that in the event of the resignation of the President of the Republic, the President of the Council of the Nation shall act as interim president for a period of three months, in order to allow the continued functioning of the State institutions and the preservation of their stability. But then, the people also demanded the departure of the whole system. By using this article, it was like saying to the people: “Wait until the same system organises the vote, and it will be up to the next president to initiate reforms.”

We demand a presidential council and an independent electoral body as the constitutional option for the return of sovereignty to the people

This approach stems from a belief that what is happening in the country is not a real revolution. According to those in power, the solution to the crisis consists in filling the vacancy at the head of the State by organising a presidential election. We, on the other hand, demand a presidential council and an independent electoral body as the constitutional option for the return of sovereignty to the people.

Why can’t the opposition make its voice heard?

During the meetings held at the end of June/beginning of July in Ain Benian, we managed to bring together most of the national elites in one place. There were 900 people, including 12 party leaders accompanied by their senior executives, all the autonomous trade unions, dozens of national associations, professional organisations including those representing lawyers, doctors, notaries and the most prominent political figures. Also attending the meeting were academics, student delegates and hirak representatives from different wilayas [administrative divisions] as well as retired members of the national armed forces.

At this gathering of all these elites – a unique precedent in Algerian history – they arrived at consensual solutions to resolve the crisis, integrating the demands of the people. But instead of taking this conclave’s resolutions into account, one of the loyalists of the fifth mandate [former Speaker of the National Assembly Karim Younès] was asked to lead a dialogue panel, supported in this mission by a statement from the presidency. In reality, we live in a dictatorship that only looks like a democratic state.

In your opinion, out of Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Ali Benflis, which is the candidate the establishment wants?

Not Ali Benflis. He was an activist with us, as part of the Forces pour le Changement. Abdelmadjid Tebboune perhaps, because he is considered as one of the symbols of the system. Now it is a question of whether he would be supported by the current regime. I believe that the principle of political isolation should be applied to all parties and personalities active in the spheres of the State.

In recent revolutions elsewhere in the world, the military institution has supported the people in their demand for the departure of the regime’s symbols. These countries have entered a period of transition, at the end of which the people have had their say. In our country, with the exception of Bouteflika’s resignation and the departure of former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia, the symbols of the regime are still there. Abdelkader Bensalah, the current interim head of state, remained. Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui is still in office. The walis, the central directors of the various ministries, the heads of daïras, the presidents of courts and tribunals are also still in place to perpetuate the same system of governance.

The political elite is currently fragmented between those who reject the next presidential election and those who support it. Why not once again try to find a way of arriving at consensual proposals for ending the crisis?

There are some attempts, though things have changed a bit. Many people who supported our ideas are now convinced that the presidential election on 12 December represents an opportunity.

Like the former head of government Ali Benflis?

For example. But there is another category of people who refuse this election and are in permanent contact to unite once again, probably under a new name. This approach will be implemented in the coming weeks.

Faced with a climate of repression, do you think popular protest will become more radical?

As a matter of principle, I am in favour of continuing this revolution in a peaceful manner, of using all peaceful means possible to convince the government of the need to respond favourably to the people’s aspirations. Starting with beginning a sovereign dialogue with those who have the trust of Algerians. I am a strong advocate for this path.

I am against the route of violence and widespread civil disobedience. But I plead for the continuation of the protest with greater mobilisation until all the political demands, which will be the basis for the next reforms, are met. Otherwise, we will only see replays of the system being plastered up to keep it alive.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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