ALGIERS (AFP) – Algerian political leaders are preparing to start talks on democratic reforms on Saturday, but the opposition plans a no-show to protest what they call a feeble attempt at real change.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April pledged a number of reforms to be introduced before the end of the year including modifying the constitution and revising electoral law, as popular uprisings swept through the Arab world against authoritarian regimes.
He asked a panel of members of recognised political parties and experts in constitutional law to come up with further proposals that would be submitted to parliament or a referendum.
He invited all political parties, regardless of whether they are represented in parliament or not, to take part in the process.
He has tasked speaker of the National Council (Senate) Abdelkader Bensalah to start sounding political parties, flanked by two advisers to Bouteflika — General Mohamed Touati and a former minister Mohamed Ali Boughazi.
But already opponents view the choice of the trio of negotiators as a thinly-veiled attempt by Bouteflika to keep his grip on power.
“We wait for concrete action towards change in order to re-establish trust in power and the state, not just fiddling around,” said Karim Tabbou, secretary of the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) which will boycott the talks.
Said Sadi, leader of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) which was established after January 21 riots that left five dead and 800 injured, said that the government-initiated talks were simply a “monologue against change.”
“The era of political tinkering is over,” he added.
The French-language daily El-Watan on Thursday said that the government “will find itself consulting itself. It might as well ask its traditional clients to participate, which will be presented as external contributions to the regime.”
The independent newspaper earlier wrote that the president’s proposals are aimed at supporting a system which “wants to keep things in hand while making it appear it is reforming, which it is not.”
Algeria’s 1996 constitution was last amended in 2009 to allow the 74-year-old Bouteflika, first elected in 1999, to seek a third term. He has not indicated his intentions when his mandate ends in 2014.
His promises came amid Algerian discontent over wages, jobs, working conditions, and corruption at the top echelons of the government.
Protesters have staged regular protests since the beginning of the year, although they are often quashed by police.