First Published: 2004-04-12

Algerias largest party faces major overhaul

National Liberation Front braces for change after Bouteflika victoryas reformers will try to take party back in hand.


Middle East Online

By Marc Pondaven - ALGIERS

Will Bouteflika make Benflis pay dearly?

Algeria's largest political party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), faces a major overhaul after Secretary-General Ali Benflis' crushing election defeat by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, analysts said on Sunday.

After its success in national assembly and local elections in 2002, the FLN suffered a serious rift in 2003 when the party broke with tradition and opted to support Benflis in Thursday's presidential vote.

The party had helped propel Bouteflika to power in the 1999 presidential election.

"It seems to be an open and shut case, and the fate of Mr Benflis sealed," said one analyst.

With nearly 84 percent of the vote, Bouteflika decisively defeated Benflis to win re-election as president of the north African country.

"We are moving towards a congress in which Mr Benflis will be absent and to the election of a new secretary general who can only be Abdelaziz Belkhadem," an Algerian lawyer commented.

Belkhadem leads elements in the divided party which opposed Benflis' attempts in 2003 to take control of the party with his presidential candidacy.

"Bouteflika with his plebiscite will now take his revenge and will make Mr Benflis pay dearly," a western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

At its eighth congress in March last year, the FLN, which led the war of independence against France between 1954 and 1962, gave its full backing to its secretary general in his presidential bid.

Bouteflika, who had not yet announced his candidature, was unhappy about this seizure of power of the FLN, of which he became a member soon after the independence struggle began.

He removed Benflis suddenly from his post as head of government in May.

Benflis had been his right-hand man for four years and managed his 1999 presidential election campaign. After that, he was made director of Bouteflika's cabinet before becoming head of government in August 2000.

But the rivalry between the two men only grew over the months and Benflis came to be seen by supporters of Bouteflika as his worst enemy.

These supporters then caused a split in the party to reduce Benflis' influence by setting up a dissident wing known as the "reform faction" and led by Belkhadem.

Members of the "reform" wing tried to undermine Benflis, including by getting the party's bank accounts frozen.

However the attempts were unsuccessful because Benflis managed to conduct his election campaign with the backing of a majority of loyal militants, but as an independent candidate.

Now, the landslide victory of Bouteflika has completely changed the state of affairs and the reformers will try to take the party back in hand, the pro-Bouteflika newspaper Le Quotidien d'Oran said on Sunday.

"Apparently the post-Benflis era has begun," the paper said. It was "expected that some heads will roll."

It pointed out that about 100 deputies out of the 200 FLN members in the assembly have already demonstrated their support for Bouteflika and that two thirds of the central committee, the FLN's top authority, has already agreed to Bouteflika.

The reformers' priority is now to reunite the general assemblies of militants in order to be able to convene a new congress, the newspaper said, adding changes would be seen soon.


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