Dr. Mohamed Meziane, Minister Counsellor in the Embassy of Algeria to New Delhi, writes:
The Hindu, on April 25, 2011, published an editorial that we at the Embassy of Algeria to New Delhi consider to be biased and inappropriate: it conceals known facts with respect to the political, economic and social situation of Algeria. The Embassy has immense respect for the quality of articles published in, and the history of, this leading newspaper, but wishes to state the following:
We have to also consider reasons other than those mentioned, for Algeria's evolution being different from that of its neighbours.
1. Algeria's government is neither monolithic nor monopartisan. Since 1995, successive Cabinets have been constituted by coalitions of three to six different political parties. Now the government comprises three parties associated under a ‘presidential alliance';
2. The 389-member Parliament includes elected representatives from 22 parties, including 33 independent persons;
3. The local and regional bodies and assemblies are ruled by several hundred elected representatives owing allegiance to around 30 political parties, including independent elected candidates;
4. The elections are not fraudulently rigged, but there are very low levels of participation. This is linked mostly to the sentiment that one vote will not bring any change in the country's social or political situation. When only a few people vote, it is natural that the candidate with the strongest electoral support gains ‘Stalinian vote results';
5. Public protests are not ‘banned' in the capital city of Algiers. As part of security measures, prior approval needs to be obtained, and many protests have been held in the city since the beginning of 2011. Until now, almost all the protests organised in Algeria have had social objectives, related especially to issues of housing, jobs, cost of living and wage increases. More than 9,000 local and sectorial acts of protest were registered in different parts of Algeria last year;
6. Following the uprising that is usually referred to as the ‘Arab Spring,' some groups of former professional politicians have tried to give the illusion of an out-of-the-system alternative while staging street demonstrations each Saturday morning. These groups comprise persons who are living abroad and are not considered credible by common citizens; hence they have failed to gather more than few dozen demonstrators each week.
7. As in any other developing country, corruption is a reality in Algeria. It is linked to the capacity given to public managers to use the financial means of the state while negotiating deals with companies from the richer countries, and to the propensity of these companies to use bribes to influence them. Accusations of bribery are also often pretexts to explain the failure of a company's process of negotiation to secure a deal; claims follow that the successful company paid extra money. While such trends are strongly fought by the law and by institutions, we have observed in Algeria that the accusations are systematic when an Asian company succeeds in a bid against a Western company. Moreover, the sentiment of the existence of a high level of corruption in Algeria is exacerbated by the traditional egalitarian social behaviour of its population. It is now linked to the country's status as a hydrocarbon exporter that has just changed from a centralised economic system of governance to a liberal economy. And people are often quick to explain the enrichment of others by means of corruption while comparing the success achieved by them in comparison with their own stagnation.
In conclusion, “to usher in democratic political reform without blood-letting” is also the wish of the major part of the Algerian people. After a week-long visit to Algeria, with the purpose of making a full assessment of the situation of freedom of opinion and expression in the country, Frank La Rue, a UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, said on March 17 that Algeria has “made significant gains in addressing social concerns through political reforms that have averted the social upheaval that has gripped much of the Arab world” and saluted “the expressed desire of the Government to embark in a new process of political reforms.”
The government lifted the state of emergency in February and started implementing a series of reforms, including the drafting of a new Constitution. It will go into force before national elections in May 2012.