Algeria’s government authorised the creation of the first new political parties in more than a decade, four months before a parliamentary election when the authorities will be under pressure to allow more democracy.
Opponents of the Algerian government though say it is only paying lip service to greater freedoms, under pressure from the “Arab Spring” upheavals elsewhere in the region, while retaining tight control on the political scene.
Algeria is the only country in North Africa largely untouched by the “Arab Spring” but analysts say it has many of the conditions, including massive youth unemployment and a lack of democratic accountability, that set off last year’s revolutions, Reuters reports.
The Interior Ministry announced it had given the green light for 10 organisations to officially register as parties, a requirement before they can run in elections.
“We have acted in such a way that a maximum number of parties could get the go ahead,” Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia was quoted as saying by the state-run APS news agency.
This is the first time since President Abdelaziz Bouteflika took office in 1999 that new parties have been given the go-ahead to register.
The parties given authorisation include several moderate Islamist groups – echoing a trend in the Middle East for Islamists to enjoy growing influence since the Arab Spring.
Government critics say many of the new parties are close to the authorities but one, the Islamist Front for Justice and Development led by Abdallah Djaballah, is an uncompromising opponent of the government.
At the moment, Algeria’s parliament is controlled by an alliance made up of the National Liberation Front, which has dominated political life in Algeria since independence from France, and the National Rally for Democracy, led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia.
Bouteflika, who is 74, last year enacted limited reforms in the wake of the revolts which toppled entrenched leaders in Egypt as well as in Algeria’s neighbours Tunisia and Libya.
He ordered the lifting of a 19-year-old state of emergency and promised to end state monopoly of television and media.
The authorities also transferred the task of supervising elections from the Interior Ministry to a commission of judges, and invited the European Union to send election monitors.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this month commended Algeria for what she said were “very significant reforms”.
But opponents of the government say the ruling elite which has run Algeria for decades, with support from the military, is showing no signs it is prepared to relinquish power.
OPEC member Algeria is a top gas producer and it is a crucial ally for Western governments in the fight against al Qaeda in the region.