ALGIERS Boosted by the success of peers in the region, a leading Algerian Islamist party plans to leave the ruling coalition before April's parliamentary election to press 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, and we will campaign to change the constitution," Bouguera Soltani, leader of the Islamist Movement for Society of Peace, told Reuters in an interview.
"The final decision belongs to the shura (advisory council) which should take it by the end of this month. Personally I am with those who support the idea to leave the government and the majority is with me," he said.
The MSP's withdrawal from the coalition would not strip the government of its majority but the party has a big following among conservative Algerians - a large part of the population.
Algeria, a major gas supplier to Europe and a Western ally in the fight against al Qaeda, has managed to avoid a spillover from other Arab revolts despite riots over wages and high prices in early 2011.
Islamist parties have done well in elections this year after uprisings which overthrew leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
"The circumstances that have seen the birth of the government coalition in 2002 are over. We need to find new ways to do politics," Soltani said.
Formerly known as the Movement for an Islamist Society, or Hamas in Arabic, 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 fellow Islamists FIS, or the Islamic Salvation Front, were 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.
Arab revolts prompted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to end 19 years of emergency laws imposed to quell the civil strife. He has also promised reforms that include allowing new political parties, liberalising the media and amending the constitution.
Soltani suspects Bouteflika is not serious about reform and warned that voters would snub the ballot box in large numbers if political reform was not implemented.
"The regime is not serious when it talks about political reforms. It continues to rule the country as it has always done... People continue to believe that the ballot is not the way for change," said Soltani.
"Without serious reforms, the social front will remain unstable," he said.
Abdelaziz Belkhadem, head of National Liberation Front secularist party that leads the coalition, last week said Islamist parties might double their support in the April election but would still be short of a majority.
The MSP's Soltani believes that an election victory by an Islamist party 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," Bouguera said.
He urged Bouteflika to introduce tougher laws against fraud which he said has tainted most previous polls. "Perpetrators of fraud must be jailed immediately".
(Writing by Souhail Karam)