Islamic opposition in Algeria is urging a national consensus on economic reform

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY) – A national consensus must be built to launch deep economic reforms and end the country’s reliance on volatile oil and gas revenues, the new leader of Algeria’s main Islamist party said on Tuesday.

Abdul Razzaq Mikri, who was elected last week as the new leader of the Peace Society Movement, told Reuters he would run for the April 2019 presidential election if the opposition government did not involve in its plans for the oil-producing country.

So far, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has ruled Algeria since 1999, has not announced whether he will seek a fifth term, although the ruling National Liberation Front and the largest trade union have asked him to run again.

If Bouteflika, 81, who needs a wheelchair after a stroke in 2013, will be a short-term stabilizer in the OPEC member country, allowing military-backed political decision-makers plenty of time to organize a smooth transition.

But Makri said the country should quickly agree on economic reforms because the model of a country that dominates an economy dependent on oil and gas revenues is no longer viable.

“Any government that needs the full support of political parties, unions and organizations to carry out difficult reforms,” ​​Mukari told Reuters in an interview. That’s why we need consensus.”

“If we do not reach a political consensus, then all options will be open. We may participate … may boycott.”

Islamist parties now play a major role in Algeria, where the FNL has been dominant since independence from France. The Peace Society movement won only 6 percent of the vote in the 2017 parliamentary elections and boycotted the presidential election in 2014.

Makri said the decline in gas exports due to an increase in domestic consumption shows that Algeria needs to diversify its economy even if oil prices continue to rise.

Oil and gas revenues have halved since 2014, putting pressure on welfare programs used by the state to avert public discontent.

Algeria responded to the economic crisis by reducing imports, freezing employment in public bodies and postponing some projects to overcome a collapse in oil prices.

But the government has maintained support for key products such as milk, and influential elites resist opening the country largely to foreigners.

“The government needs to show clearly to political parties that it will accept political change,” Makri said.

Many Algerians prefer stability after the civil war that hit the country in the 1990s when the elite canceled an election Islamists were on the way to winning, sparking a conflict that killed some 200,000 people.

The seemingly low support for the Islamist parties was not deterred by Mqri, who referred to Tunisia, where both Islamist and secular forces were in control.

“Tunisia is a good example. When the elections are free and fair, the winners are always the Islamists … In Morocco, the Islamists won, in Tunisia they won, and they would win in Algeria if there was no cheating.”