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Prelude to the Cancellation of Elections

On December 26, the FIS won 189 of the 231 seats that were decided in the first round of elections for Algeria's 430-seat parliament.  It was the first multiparty election for that body in Algeria's 30-year history as an independent nation.

The vote was to have been held on June 26, 1991, but a massive strike by the FIS in May to protest gerrymandering of districts led to clashes with security forces, the imposition of a state of siege and postponement of the vote.

A total of 49 parties took part in relatively unfettered campaigning during the weeks preceding the elections, holding rallies, distributing party literature, and debating their programs.  The FIS participated despite the detention since June of its leader, Abbasi Madani, and his deputy, Ali Belhadj, on charges of inciting and organizing an armed insurrection against the state.

According to the official results, 59 percent of Algeria's 13.2 million male and female registered voters cast ballots.  The FIS won 47.54 percent of the vote and 189 seats, the National Liberation Front, which monopolized power in Algeria since independence, won 23.52 percent of the vote and 15 seats, and the secularist Socialist Forces Front won 7.45 percent of the vote and 25 seats.  The other 46 parties that fielded candidates were eliminated.  Of the more than 5,700 candidates about 58 were women.  Only one, Fatima Kartout of the Socialist Forces Front, won enough votes to qualify for the second round.1

Although some irregularities were reported, including ballot-tampering and the intimidation of voters by FIS supporters at some polling stations, evidence has not been produced to indicate that such acts took place on a large scale.

The margin of victory for the FIS virtually assured the party of capturing a majority in the second round of elections.  With its candidates leading in about 140 of the 199 districts that remained to be decided, the FIS stood a good chance of winning the 98 additional seats required to attain a two-thirds majority, the amount needed to ratify constitutional amendments.  The constitution, however, gives the president wide powers, including sole authority to introduce and promulgate constitutional amendments, and responsibility for foreign, defense and law-and-order policy.

The election results created panic within sectors of the government and the public that feared that a FIS victory would prove disastrous to the country.  Some advocated a halt to the electoral process, claiming, among other justifications, that a FIS victory would endanger the future of democracy and human rights in Algeria.  Such fears were based on statements made by FIS leaders, acts of intolerance and violence carried out by Islamists against those accused of "improper" behavior, and the policies pursued by FIS-controlled municipal governments.  These concerns about the FIS are discussed later in this report.

President Chadli Benjedid resisted pressure to cancel the elections.  He declared his commitment to the democratic process and his readiness to work alongside a FIS-dominated parliament.  However, the pressure continued to grow.  Complaints of voting irregularities in 145 districts, most of them won by the FIS, were submitted to the government-appointed Constitutional Council, and rumors of an impending intervention by the army began to mount.

On January 11, before the Constitutional Council could rule on the election fraud charges, President Benjedid announced his immediate resignation and the army took up positions in the capital.  Since the coup, the Constitutional Council has been silent on the question of election fraud, and the allegations remain unproven.

Benjedid's letter of resignation alluded to what leaders of the new regime would soon confirm directly: that the purpose of the coup was to block the victory of the FIS.  His letter stated in part, "We are living through a pluralistic democratic process that is characterized by numerous excesses and tendencies clashing with one another.  Thus, the measures taken and the routes that must be taken to solve our problems have now reached a point beyond which it is no longer possible to proceed without gravely harming national cohesion, the preservation of public order, and national unity."2

On January 12, the High Security Council, a presidential advisory body, announced it was "taking charge temporarily of all matters that could affect public order and state security." The Council is dominated by the military, most notably by Minister of Defense Gen. Khaled Nezzar.  The other members are Prime Minister Sid Ahmed Ghozali, Minister of Interior Gen. Larbi Belkheir, Foreign Affairs Minister Lakhdar Brahimi, Minister of Justice Hamdani Benkhelil, President of the Constitutional Council Abdelmalek Benhabyles, and Army Chief-of-Staff Gen. Abdelmalek Guenaizia.

The Council's first act was to cancel the second round of legislative elections, citing "the impossibility of continuing the electoral process." The Council announced no plans for a presidential election.

The cancellation of elections was denounced on January 13 by the leaders of the two main opposition parties: Abdelkader Hachani of the FIS, and Hocine Aït Ahmed of the Socialist Forces Front.  The same day, the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, the country's oldest independent human rights organization, denounced the "brutal and unjustified interruption of the democratic process" as tantamount to "a military coup." 

On January 14, the Council announced the creation of a new body, the High State Council (HSC), which would assume presidential powers until no later than December 1993, when the term of Benjedid would have expired.  Seeking legitimacy for the coup, the regime recruited Mohamed Boudiaf, a hero of the Algerian war of independence who had been living in exile since the 1960s, to head the HSC, which included only one military official, Gen. Nezzar, rather than the three in the High Security Council.  The other members were Ali Kafi, head of an organization of veterans of the independence war, Tejini Khaddam, rector of the Paris mosque, and Human Rights Minister Ali Haroun.3

While some officials denied that the coup was directed at stopping the FIS,4 Haroun minced no words in portraying it as an anti-FIS move, carried out to save democracy and human rights.  On January 15, he told France's Antenne-2 Television network,

As human rights minister, I believe that when an exceptional situation in a nation's life occurs, at that point it is a question of defending the whole of this nation, because what threatened us after 15 January was an Islamic state, as is seen in certain countries that I do not want to name here.  I say that I defend human rights by doing what is necessary so that my country will not undergo the situation that is being experienced in certain countries in the Middle East and East Africa.5

Further comments by Haroun were broadcast by Antenne-2 the following day:

The FIS, which has at least shown some honesty and frankness in this area, said that it is not democratic, that it is against democracy, that it does not want democracy.  It has said that when it takes power there will be nor more elections; there will be the Shura, the religious men who meet together and decide on your behalf.  The FIS says there will be no democracy.  It says there will be no elections.  It says it would use the elections to gain power.  Afterwards there would be no more elections.

As a minister of human rights, my question is: Who is there to defend the notion of human rights?  Am I going to allow a situation where, in a month or two, people will no longer have any rights?  I cannot do that.  There are currently men in Algeria who are assuming their responsibilities.  There is a great part of the population that feels reassured.  We are going to take the time to set up real institutions to lead this country toward real democracy -- not some pretext of using a democratic process that ends up killing democracy.6

[1]She is profiled in le Quotidien d'Algérie of January 12, 1992.

[2]Le Quotidien d'Algérie, January 12, 1992.

[3] Haroun was named deputy minister of human rights in June 1991.  In October the post was raised to full ministerial level.

Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi told al-Hayat daily on January 20, 1992, "You asked whether that was done to confront the FIS.  No.  It was done in a bid to prevent developments which the country unanimously considered dangerous."  The resignation of Benjedid "was the beginning of the alter the democratic course in order to safeguard constitutional and legal practices, if possible."  As reported in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Near East and South Asia Daily Report, January 24, 1992 [hereinafter FBIS].

[5] As reported in FBIS, January 17, 1992.


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