ALGIERS - Boosted by the success of Islamists in neighboring countries, a leading Islamist party in Algeria plans to quit the ruling coalition and press for constitutional reforms.
"The circumstances that have seen the birth of the government coalition in 2002 are over, Bouguera Soltani, leader of the Islamist Movement for Society of Peace, told Reuters in an interview on Monday, December 26.
We need to find new ways to do politics."
Soltani said the MSP plans to quit the ruling coalition before the April parliamentary elections to push for constitutional reforms to limit the powers of the president.
"We are for a parliamentary system, not a presidential system as is the case now, he said.
And we will campaign to change the constitution."
The MSP's withdrawal from the coalition would not strip the government of its majority.
"The final decision belongs to the shura (advisory council) which should take it by the end of this month, Soltani said.
Personally I am with those who support the idea to leave the government and the majority is with me."
The Islamist party has a big following among conservative Algerians - a large part of the population.
Formerly known as the Movement for an Islamist Society, the MSP was founded in 1990 by Algerian members of the Muslim Brotherhood and has been in the government coalition since 2004.
The party condemned a coup in 1992 that forced the cancellation of an election that the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win.
The MSP did not join the resulting uprising that evolved into a decade-long civil war in which 200,000 people were killed.
The Islamist leader suspects that incumbent president Abdelaziz Bouteflika is serious about reforms.
"The regime is not serious when it talks about political reforms, Soltani told Reuters.
It continues to rule the country as it has always done... People continue to believe that the ballot is not the way for change.
Algeria, a major gas supplier to Europe and a Western ally, has managed to avoid a spillover from other Arab revolts despite riots over wages and high prices in early 2011.
To help contain the revolt, Bouteflika ended 19 years of emergency laws imposed to quell the civil strife.
He has also promised reforms that include allowing new political parties, liberalizing the media and amending the constitution.
"Without serious reforms, the social front will remain unstable," Soltani said.
The Islamist leader urged Bouteflika to introduce tougher laws against fraud which he said has tainted most previous polls.
"Perpetrators of fraud must be jailed immediately".
Islamist parties have swept polls in Tunisia and Egypt following the downfall of their long-standing presidents. Islamists also emerged biggest winners in Morocco.
The MSP leader believes that an election victory by an Islamist party in Algeria would be a real test of Islamic policies."In 50 years of independence, we have tried socialism and liberalism, but never Islamism. Let's try it and see if it will work," Soltani said.