Role of Political Parties
The FLN had traditionally served as the only legal political
party in the legislature and the only source of political identification.
It controlled all aspects of political participation, including
the trade unions and other civil organizations. In the prerevolutionary
years, the party served as a source of national unity and mobilized
the fight against French colonial domination. Having played such
a dominant role in the War of Independence assured the FLN a privileged
position in the emerging political configuration, a position preserved
in the early constitutions.
The first Algerian constitution in 1963 established a single-party
structure for the new nation and recognized the FLN as the single
party. The constitution declared the party superior to the state--the
party was to design national policy, the state to execute it.
Political hegemony did not last long, however. Factional infighting
within the party and Boumediene's heavily military-oriented presidency
greatly undermined party authority. During most of the 1970s,
with the Council of the Revolution as almost the sole political
institution and Boumediene's cabinet primarily composed of military
officers, the party's political functions were nearly eliminated.
The president and his cabinet assumed the party's policy-making
initiative; the elimination of the APN basically annulled mobilization
responsibilities. The 1976 National Charter and constitution reasserted
the party's symbolic and national role but bestowed little additional
responsibility. In the late 1970s, with the reemergence of political
institutions and elections, the party became again an important
political actor. The creation in 1981 of a Political Bureau (or
executive arm of the FLN in a communist sense), legislation requiring
that all union and mass association leaders be FLN party members,
and the extension of party authority resulted in the growth and
increased strength of the party until the late 1980s, when its
heavily bureaucratic structure came under serious scrutiny.
By the 1980s, the FLN had become discredited by corruption, inefficiency,
and a broad generation gap that distanced the wealthy party elite
from the realities of daily life for the masses of impoverished
young Algerians. The FLN had ceased to be the national "front"
its name suggests. Algeria's economic polarization was such that
only 5 percent of the population was earning 45 percent of the
national income, whereas another 50 percent was earning less than
22 percent of national income. Members of the party elite enjoyed
privileged access to foreign capital and goods, were ensured positions
at the head of state-owned enterprises, and benefited from corrupt
management of state-controlled goods and services. The masses,
however, suffered from the increasing unemployment and inflation
resulting from government reforms and economic austerity in the
mid- to late 1980s. The riots of October 1988 indicated that the
FLN had lost legitimacy in the eyes of the masses.
Increasing economic polarization was but one facet of the broadening
generation gap. Thirty years after independence, the FLN continued
to rely on its links to Algeria's revolutionary past as its primary
source of legitimacy, ignoring the fact that for most voters what
mattered was not the martyrs of the past but the destitution of
contemporary life. Indeed, 70 percent of the population was born
after the revolution.
Benjedid's call for constitutional reform began the collapse
of the FLN. The 1989 constitution not only eliminated the FLN's
monopoly but also abolished all references to the FLN's unique
position as party of the avant-garde. The new constitution recognized
the FLN's historical role, but the FLN was obliged to compete
as any other political party. By mid-1989 the military had recognized
the imminent divestiture of the FLN and had begun to distance
itself from the party. The resignation of several senior military
officers from party membership in March 1989, generally interpreted
as a protest against the constitutional revisions, also reflected
a strategic maneuver to preserve the military establishment's
integrity as guardian of the revolution. Finally, in July 1991
Benjedid himself resigned from the party leadership.
The legalization of political parties in 1989 caused a number
of prominent party officials to defect from the FLN in the months
that followed, as ministers left to form their own political parties
or to join others. A break between the old guard and the reform-minded
technocrats dealt the final blow to any FLN aspirations to remain
a national front and foreshadowed the party's devastating defeat
in the 1990 and 1991 elections. By the time of the coup in January
1992, some factions had even defected to join or lead Islamist
parties, including a group that acted in alliance with the FIS.
Data as of December 1993