Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
07ALGIERS1559
2007-10-25 10:58:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Algiers
Cable title:  

LOCAL ELECTIONS 2007: THE HEAVY HAND OF THE

Tags:  PGOV KDEM KPAO AG 
pdf how-to read a cable
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ALGIERS 001559 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/24/2017
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KPAO AG
SUBJECT: LOCAL ELECTIONS 2007: THE HEAVY HAND OF THE
INTERIOR MINISTRY

REF: ALGIERS 1527

Classified By: Ambassador Robert Ford; reasons 1.4 (b),(d).

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ALGIERS 001559

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/24/2017
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KPAO AG
SUBJECT: LOCAL ELECTIONS 2007: THE HEAVY HAND OF THE
INTERIOR MINISTRY

REF: ALGIERS 1527

Classified By: Ambassador Robert Ford; reasons 1.4 (b),(d).


1. (C) SUMMARY: At the same time as Interior Minister Yazid
Zerhouni is making public statements about the government's
commitment to a fair and neutral electoral process to urge
greater turnout, the role of his ministry in micro-managing
slates of candidates from all parties has been significant.
Embassy contacts from ruling and opposition parties alike
speak of their astonishment at the degree to which a "hidden
hand" has rejected candidates alleged to be criminals or
security risks, and otherwise publicized mysterious slates of
candidates markedly different from the ones they submitted at
the October 9 deadline. Opposition parties such as the Front
des Forces Socialistes (FFS) have raised their complaints in
the media and to Prime Minister Belkhadem, but parties in the
ruling coalition are also scratching their heads at the
unprecedented level of governmental involvement in the run-up
to the November 29 elections. END SUMMARY.

--------------
ZERHOUNI - THE PUBLIC FACE
--------------


2. (U) Leading Arabic-language daily El Khabar reported on
October 22 remarks made by Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni
at the opening of a government-sponsored youth conference in
Algiers. Zerhouni stated that the government was "committed
to neutrality before and during the electoral process" and
was sought to maximize voter participation in the vote.
Zerhouni promised a campaign of "awareness and consciousness"
to promote a meaningful election process.

--------------
INTERIOR BOOTS OUT CANDIDATES
--------------


3. (C) Abdelmajid Menasra, vice president of the Islamist
(Muslim Brotherhood) Society for Peace Movement (MSP),one of
the three parties of the ruling coalition, told Poloff on
October 22 that Algerian electoral law provides for three
justifications to disqualify a candidate from seeking elected
office: a criminal record; bankruptcy; and participation in
the war for independence on the French side. The police are
responsible for vetting all slates of proposed candidates in
Algeria's 1541 local electoral districts to determine if

criminals or other security risks must be disqualified.
Menasra said that before the previous local elections in
2002, rejecting candidates was unheard of. Some were
rejected by the police in 2002, he said, but the numbers have
gone through the roof in 2007, with some 500 out of 10,000
MSP candidates nationwide rejected by the police "for
security reasons," even though some of those candidates were
former senators and members of parliament. Opposition FFS
party head Karim Tabbou told Poloff on October 17 that,
across the country, ten entire slates of FFS candidates at
the wily level were rejected, largely for bureaucratic
reasons but also with "unexplained security justifications."


4. (C) Under the Charter of National Reconciliation, former
members of the now-banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) are
also banned from participation in politics. This year, some
former FIS members have attempted to find new political life
on the slates of parties such as the MSP or the opposition
an-Nahda. Journalist Samar Smati of the French-language
newspaper Liberte told us on October 21 that she knew of "a
dozen or so" former FIS members whose names had been
submitted on candidate slates for the local elections, only
to be rejected by the police. Menasra said that three former
FIS members were rejected from the MSP lists, but that the
police were "taking advantage" of their mandate to weed out
criminals and Islamists to populate the lists with candidates
of their choosing. According to Tabbou, when he presented
FFS complaints to Prime Minister Belkhadem (reftel) on
October 17, Belkhadem seemed "only recently apprised" of
electoral complaints. He had, however,a dossier on his desk
from the interior ministry that included extensive details on
the rejected candidates with statistics that Tabbou said were
"more accurate and more complete than the party's own."

--------------

ALGIERS 00001559 002 OF 003


SOME APPEAL AND WIN BUT IT'S TENUOUS
--------------


5. (C) Candidates struck from the lists by the Interior
Ministry have the right to appeal the decision to the courts.
Lawyer Fatma Benbrahem told us October 23 that she was
representing in court three candidates from the FLN. In each
of the three cases, she claimed, the Interior Ministry
claimed the candidates had criminal records but in fact no
criminal conviction of any kind existed. She was hopeful
that the judges would, therefore, decide in favor of her
clients, but she cautioned that the judges - who work
directly for the Ministry of Justice - are not independent.
A judge is always nervous that if he decides the wrong way
he'll be transferred from Algiers to the court in Tamanrasset
(in the extreme south of Algeria's Sahara desert).


6. (C) Interestingly, no party is immune from Interior
Ministry intervention. The coalition member RND party, no
Islamist or opposition hotbed, also had more than 700
candidates nationwide removed from its candidate slates, RND
Central Committee member Seddik Chihheb told Ambassador
October 24. Chihheb noted that never before had the Interior
Ministry been so pervasive in going through lists.
Nonetheless, the RND was appealing to the courts on many of
its cases and winning a few. For example, he said, four
candidates removed from the provincial legislature candidate
list in Boumerdes provinces regained their places with a
court order on October 23. Chihheb assessed that the
candidate registration process has serious flaws but there is
still some room to push for a wider opening and more genuine
competition in elections. There is an opening, but if
Algeria's political system does not liberalize more quickly
or it will be discredited entirely, he concluded.

--------------
"WE ARE THE MASTERS OF FRAUD"
--------------


7. (C) Houria Bouhired, until early 2007 a member of
parliament representing Algiers' conservative and
historically volatile Bab el-Oued neighborhood for the ruling
FLN party, told Poloff October 21 that the FLN was deeply
divided and was being exploited by the ruling elite as a
front to legitimize electoral tampering. On October 22,
current FLN Senator and former Ambassador Mohieddin Ammimour
painted the same picture, describing to Ambassador an FLN
base that was rejecting the centralized arbitration of party
leader Prime Minister Belkhadem in favor of electoral
disputes resolved locally, often with candidates pushed by
the Army and security services. Bouhired described the local
FLN list presented in the Algiers district of Sidi M'hamed as
one that, when made public, was completely different than the
one the district FLN office had submitted. Under the
pretense of security concerns, a rejected candidate on that
list was replaced with a known former prostitute, according
to Bouhired. Bouhired said that similar tampering led her to
withdraw her candidacy for re-election to the parliament in
the spring. At the conclusion of his October 22 meeting with
Poloff, MSP's Menasra smiled and shook his head. "We are the
masters of fraud," he said, noting that "You would not
believe what goes on at the local level."

--------------
COMMENT
--------------


8. (C) Zerhouni's stated desire to manage a fair and
transparent electoral process is inconsistent with the degree
of control his ministry is exercising over candidates and
their parties. The extraordinary level of police involvement
in choosing candidates has not been lost on officials from
competing parties. Embassy contacts across party lines were
unanimous in acknowledging that, now more than ever,
Algeria's top leaders -- "le Pouvoir" -- are organizing the
election, deciding who runs and who does not, and ultimately
determining the results it wants. Instead of spurring the
greater turnout Zerhouni claims to support, the degree of
control risks further alienating a population that indicated
in May it thought the election process was a waste of time
designed to legitimize an inevitable outcome. "Why should I
vote?" an Embassy driver shrugged while stuck in Algiers

ALGIERS 00001559 003 OF 003


traffic on October 22, "we all know the result and it won't
lower the price of potatoes anyway."
FORD