ALGERIA Yes to the Sovereign Constituent Assembly! No to Presidential Elections!

An interview with Abdelkader Bentaleb, activist of the Organisation Committee of the Internationalist Socialists of Algeria (COSI)

The last issue of you publication, Minbar el Oummel, asserts that the alternative is “presidential elections or Constituent Assembly”. Why? 

The head of the army, who is exercising the “real power”, has just announced that presidential elections will be set for “15 September at the latest”. He has got the backing of the “panel” of personalities that he has named for “dialogue”. The main organisations and parties of the country that have come together in three distinct alliances (the “civil society”, the Forces of Change” and the “Pact for a Democratic Alternative”) put a liaison committee in place on 24 August, the objective of which is to harmonise their road maps for “coming out of the crisis”. 

The only way to oppose these so-called “solutions”, which preserve the regime, would be the immediate election of a sovereign Constituent Assembly. But this path is being blocked by the very active participation in the process of “dialogue” with the regime by both trade unions (notably the Autonomous Trade Union Confederation, CSA) and the parties claiming to be workers’ parties. 

Yet the determination of the Algerian people remain intact, and their aspirations are reiterated every Friday: “System, clear out!” Let the People Speak!” No to dialogue!” There has been a surge in struggles based on social demands: the fight of the people of Biskra and other towns for the right to housing and against the rationing of water, and dozens of labour strikes putting the general strike on the agenda. 

The most favourable solution would be that the parties claiming to be workers’ parties break with the framework of dialogue with the regime and unite to open the way to a sovereign Constituent Assembly and general strike, to do away with the regime. In broad terms, the resolution adopted on 24 August by the general assembly of the citizens of Bgayet (in Berber: Béjaïa), opens this perspective by explicitly coming out for a sovereign Constituent Assembly and by giving it the democratic and social content that is in keeping with the aspirations of the masses. 

Have the initiatives for “dialogue” with the regime, such as the “Pact for a Democratic Alternative” that the Workers Party (PT) and the Workers Socialist Party (PST) participate in, prompted debate? 

The leaders of the PST are between a rock and a hard place: between their active presence in the “Pact” and the action of their activists in favour of the Constituent Assembly and general strike. The pressure from many of the activists prevented the leadership of the PST from taking part in the 24 August meeting, but has not managed to bring them to breaking with the « Pact. » The leadership is trying to use cunning by asserting that, in the “Pact”, “what unites us is more important that what divides us”. But the activists of the PST know that the RCD and the UPC (two other parties in the “Pact”) are favourable to dialogue with the regime and to the agreements with the World Trade Organization and the European Union, etc. 

The Workers Party (PT) is also in crisis. First of all, the regime spawned a split at the summit of the PT, pulling away six MPs out of eleven and fifteen members of the central committee. This has indisputably been an attempt by the system to destroy the party. Among those who have refused to follow those six MPs, political divergences are beginning to express themselves. On one side, the leadership of the PT is participating in the “Pact for Democratic Alternative” and the 24 August meeting. On the other, prominent activists are ripping into the dialogue with the regime, and urging for the Constituent Assembly and the creation of popular committees. On one side, a leader has come out against general strike in the oil and gas fields, on the other, activists in the rank and file are for. On one side, a leader has stated to the press that “the real meaning of articles 7 and 8” of the Constitution allows for opening the way to a Constituent Assembly. On the other, there are activists who assert that the Constitution is null and void, precisely because article 7 (which recognises the sovereignty of the people) is cancelled out by article 8, which claims that this sovereignty is exercised through the presidency of the Republic, the popular National Assembly (i.e., Parliament) and other corrupt and rejected institutions. That, moreover, is the constitutional argument that the regime is using to convene the presidential elections. 

Interview conducted on September 2nd, 2019