x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mutiny within Algeria's ruling party reflects race for power

The party at the heart of power since Algeria's independence is divided by an internal revolt that may be an early skirmish in the battle to succeed 75-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

ALGIERS // The party at the heart of power since Algeria's independence from France is divided by an internal revolt that may be an early skirmish in the battle to succeed 75-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Less than a month before the National Liberation Front, known by its French initials FLN, competes in a parliamentary election, an influential faction within the party has tried to oust Secretary-General Abdelaziz Belkhadem.

Mr Belkhadem is a close ally of Mr Bouteflika and is viewed by many as a potential successor, despite opposition to this from other powerful forces within Algeria's ruling elite.

"I wonder if the crisis inside the FLN is not linked to the next presidential election, and that the target is Mr Belkhadem as a potential candidate," political analyst and writer Abed Charef said.

The FLN was the movement that fought French colonial rule and, after independence in 1962, it ruled in a one-party system, coming to be known as "the state within the state".

With echoes of the Soviet Communist Party, the constitution for years contained an article requiring any senior official to be an FLN member.

Though the FLN lost some of its status 20 years ago when Algeria adopted a multi-party system, even now it is seen as the "party of power". Mr Bouteflika is honorary chairman of the FLN and most government ministers are members.

But in the past few weeks, a fight for control that at times verged on farce has eclipsed the FLN's august traditions.

When the rebel faction tried to hold a session of the FLN's central committee to vote no confidence in Mr Belkhadem, they found that Mr Belkhadem's loyalists had locked the doors of the party's national headquarters, a Moorish villa in the capital, Algiers.

The party dissidents held a brief protest in the front garden of the building, shattering the calm of the street in the upmarket Hydra district where the headquarters are located.

The mutiny is now on hold after Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia intervened and said the issue would be reviewed after the May 10 parliamentary election. But that is likely to be only a temporary reprieve for Mr Belkhadem.

Abdelhamid Si Afif, a member of the FLN's political bureau and chairman of the foreign affairs commission in parliament, says the party chief must go.

Mr Belkhadem's opponents accuse him of being autocratic, too close to wealthy business interests and detrimental to the party's popular appeal.

"He handles the party as if it was something he owns. He excluded valuable activists from running (in the election). He should quit because if he stays the FLN will disappear," Si Afif said.

Mr Belkhadem denies the allegations, dismissing the FLN rebels as a minority pursuing personal interests, not the party's.

The actions of Mr Belkhadem's opponents will have "the impact of a damp squib", said Kassa Aissi, a member of the FLN's political bureau and an ally of the party leader.

Mr Belkhadem "remains and will remain" head of the party, Mr Aissi told local media.