Legalization of Political Parties and Beginnings of a Pluralist System

Legalization of Political Parties and Beginnings of a Pluralist System

The legalization of political parties, further enunciated in the Law Relative to Political Associations of July 1989, was one of the major achievements of the revised constitution. More than thirty political parties emerged as a result of these reforms by the time of the first multiparty local and regional elections in June 1990; nearly sixty existed by the time of the first national multiparty elections in December 1991.

Granting the right to form "associations of a political character," the constitution recognized the existence of opposition parties. Earlier, such parties were precluded because the FLN had a national mandate as a front, eliminating the political necessity of competitive political parties. Other political associations had also been limited because trade unions and other civil associations fell under FLN direction and had little autonomy. The new constitution recognized all political associations and mandated only a commitment to national unity and sovereignty. The July law further clarified the guidelines for the establishment and participation of political parties.

The law prohibited associations formed exclusively on regional, ethnic, or religious grounds. Ironically, however, the two parties that profited most in the 1990 and 1991 elections were the FIS and the FFS from the Kabylie region. That these parties were among the first legalized in 1989 has given credence to those who maintain that Benjedid's liberalization was based more on tactical personal considerations than genuine democratic ambitions. They argue that these parties had the means and appeal to challenge the monopoly of the FLN. The FLN became the main antagonist to the liberalization program of Benjedid and his then prime minister, Hamrouche. By the time of the military coup, the FLN had completely broken with the government.

The December 1991 elections and the scheduled second-round runoffs in January 1992 provided the first national test for the new multiparty system. The elections were open to all registered parties--parties had to register before the campaign period began--and were contested by almost fifty parties. Voting was by universal and secret ballot and assembly seats were awarded based on a proportional representation system. Only 231 of the 430 seats were decided in the first round of elections in which 59 percent of eligible voters participated, but an Islamist victory seemed assured by the Islamist command of 80 percent of the contested seats. The second round of elections was canceled by the military coup of January 11, 1992.

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