ALGIERS // Islamist parties in Algeria were unlikely to win parliamentary polls in May despite their gains in neighbouring countries, the interior minister said yesterday.
Asked about the possibility of an Islamist election victory, Dahou Ould Kablia said "you don't sell the bear skin before killing the bear".
Algeria was different to other countries in the region, he said.
"The Algerian voter knows his world well. Comparisons with other countries do not prove very much. Algeria has its specific character, its social values that don't necessarily resemble those that exist elsewhere, where the votes were a matter of politics rather than of values."
But "nobody can put themselves in the place of the people to say what direction its choice will take".
Mr Ould Kablia said he feared a high voter abstention rate.
"The legislative polls in the past did not mobilise many people" compared to local and presidential elections.
The minister said political parties should choose candidates who would bring people out to the ballot box, judging that in the past "the candidates chosen did not correspond" to the wishes of the people.
In an interview published in the daily L'Expression, the former prime minister Ahmed Benbitour said "there is no Islamist threat hanging over the republic".
He recalled that the "Algerian constitution doesn't oblige the head of state to choose the government from inside a parliamentary majority".
Algeria lives with the memory of a decade-long civil war that began in 1992 after the army intervened to cancel the second round of elections that the then powerful Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win.
There is no equivalent today of the FIS, which was outlawed.
The foreign minister, Mourad Medelci, meanwhile told the daily Liberte that the number of foreign observers to the vote would be unlimited, and that they may come from the United Nations, the European Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League and the African Union.
"If one of these parties wants to send 1,000 people, then they will be welcome," he said. "The EU has already responded, the AU too. We have no doubt that the UN will join this effort and that the Arab League and the OIC will do the same."
Bouguerra Soltani, the head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), an Islamist party with four members in the government, has repeatedly predicted an Islamic election victory.