Secular party decides to contest Algerian election

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By AOMAR OUALI, Associated Press

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — One of Algeria's main secular opposition parties will contest May's parliamentary elections after being absent from the political scene for the last 15 years, its leader announced Friday.

The move is a shot in the arm for the secular opposition in Algeria, where the upcoming race has been shaping up to be a showdown between military-linked government parties and Islamist factions. It also adds legitimacy to the elections and suggests the secular party feels it has a fair shot — possibly because of the pressure on Arab governments in the wake of popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East.

In a letter to members of the ruling council of the Socialist Forces Front, known by its French initials FFS, Hocine Ait Ahmed said it was time to re-mobilize the party and re-enter politics.

"Participation is a tactical necessity for the FFS and is part of our strategy to build a democratic alternative to this corrupt, destructive and despotic regime," he wrote from Switzerland, where he is in self-imposed exile.

Ait Ahmed fought against France's colonial rule and then after independence in 1962, he clashed with the new republic's government. When the country adopted multi-party politics in 1989, his party contested legislative elections and he even ran for president before quitting in disgust a decade or so later.

The other main secular opposition party, the Rally for Culture and Democracy, on Feb. 17 condemned the election as a hoax and said it was boycotting.

Both parties have their roots in the mountainous Kabylie region, east of the capital, which is dominated by Berbers who have long opposed the central government.

In his letter, Ait Ahmed acknowledged that there was a lot of internal opposition to taking part in the elections among the party faithful.

The parliament is controlled by two government-linked parties with close ties to the military authorities dominating politics.

They are expected to maintain their strong position despite an alliance of three religious parties who hope to mimic Islamist electoral victories elsewhere in North Africa over the past few months.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and other top officials have said that what they fear more than an Islamist victory is apathy at the May 10 polls. Turnout in the 2007 elections was only 36 percent.

Unlike its North African neighbors Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, demonstrations in Algeria over the past year did not culminate into a widespread anti-government movement.

There is, however, widespread discontent in this oil and gas rich nation of 35 million, with constant small protests across the country against police brutality as well as the lack of housing and utilities.

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