Algeria’s ruling elite is split by infighting which could jeopardise stability in the oil and gas exporter, an official in the governing coalition says.
Commentators have said that a battle for influence is taking place behind the scenes in Algeria’s opaque political system but until now no one from inside the ruling coalition has acknowledged in public that there is any dispute.
Some analysts say the rift was behind a corruption probe into Algeria’s state energy firm which supplies 20 % of Europe’s gas and that more turmoil could worsen popular unrest or cause an upsurge in attacks by al Qaeda insurgents.
“We are living in an era of corruption, and an underground and non-transparent struggle between different factions inside the ruling elite,” said Abderazak Makri, the number two official in the Movement for Society and Peace (MSP) party.
His moderate Islamist party is a junior member of the coalition that backed the re-election last year of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and it controls government portfolios including the ministries of public works and commerce.
Algeria was the scene of a conflict between security forces and Islamist rebels that reached a peak in the 1990s and, according to some estimates, killed about 200 000 people. The violence has been greatly reduced in the past few years.
“We thought that Algeria after its victory over terrorism will focus on development, and that it will provide more political freedom, unfortunately this did not happen,” Makri told Reuters.
“We are facing a huge political drift. Democracy is still in danger,” he said.
A former Algerian prime minister told Reuters last month that some in the state apparatus were upset at what they believed was the excessive power accumulated by a section of the ruling elite.
Bouteflika, who is 73, came to power in 1999 and is widely credited with reducing the insurgent violence. Parliament amended the constitution to allow him to run for a third term and he was re-elected last year with 90.24 % of the vote.
The normally placid surface of Algerian politics has been disturbed since the start of this year by a series of events that some analysts have interpreted as signs of tension within the governing system.
In Algeria’s biggest corruption scandal in years, the chief executive of state energy firm Sonatrach has been placed under judicial investigation over allegations that the company improperly awarded contracts to suppliers.
Several senior officials with the public works ministry which awards multi-million contracts for road-building projects have also been charged with corruption.
Last week the veteran head of the national police force, Ali Tounsi, was shot dead inside his office. The interior ministry said there was no political motive and that the killer, a senior police official, had acted in a moment of madness.
In the interview, Makri denied that any of his party’s government ministers were involved in corrupt activity and said tackling official graft was a priority.
“Today our mission as a moderate Islamic party is to be present in the fight against corruption,” Makri said. “Corruption is as dangerous as terrorism. It threatens Algeria’s stability and jeopardizes its development.”
Pic: Algerian president- Abdelaziz Bouteflika