Multiparty Algerian Vote Turns on Economy, Islam
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'Us or chaos' Emphasis on the cultural argument, these experts say, only reinforces the argument of strong central leaders and a small elite that "it's either us or chaos." Algeria's experience may end up providing some answers. But already its Islamic movement is showing some of the strains of participating in the democratic process. What was generally a monolithic movement before multiparty local elections in 1990 is now divided into three parties. After a long hesitation, during which many of its activists brandished signs reading "Islamic state without a vote," the movement's dominant Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) finally decided Dec. 14 to participate in the elections.Skip to next paragraph
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Imprisoned leaders With top FIS leaders still in prison for fomenting the riots last June that forced the government to postpone the elections and call a four-month state of siege, the party is now run by a more moderate leader, Abdel Kader Hashani. Observers believe Mr. Hashani was able to persuade a divided party to participate for two reasons: that "good behavior" would get the FIS leadership out of prison after the elections, and that a failure to participate could leave the FIS marginalized. The FIS was forced by the government - and by clear public approval for the government's tough line against any source of fresh instability - to back down from plans to hold the kinds of urban marches that led to violence in June. At the same time, however, the FIS is the only party that has registered candidates in all 430 legislative districts. Observers generally believe the party will win about a third of the vote. The FIS strategy seems to be that indecisive results will leave the country in turmoil and force anticipated presidential elections, something that has been its goal all along. For Mr. Ghozali and President Chadli Benjedid, on the other hand, the hope is that a two-thirds non-FIS vote will allow the formation of a coalition government to see the country through to better economic times and an ebbing of the Islamic movement.