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Algeria's chance for civil peace Presidential election: Acceptance of outcome brings opportunity for real democracy.


THE HIGH TURNOUT in Algeria's presidential election Nov. 17 and subsequent acceptance of its outcome by both the legal and banned opposition give Algeria, at last, a chance to end civil war with democracy.

President Liamine Zeroual, the retired general installed by the army and now legitimatized, announced an immediate start of preparations for parliamentary elections. These should be genuine and include the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which was banned from this election and which had won the 1992 elections the army quashed in taking over.

The opposition does not dispute the government's claim that nearly three-fourths of those eligible voted, despite opposition boycotts and death threats from the shadowy Armed Islamic Group (GIA). President Zeroual won 61 percent of this vote. Moderate Islamic candidates tolerated by the regime as an alternative to FIS did surprisingly well.

This was a mandate not for continued autocratic rule by the army behind Mr. Zeroual, but for rule by elections and against the civil war and murder campaign of the GIA. Its attempt to carry the terrorism to France also failed after some spectacular bombings. Effective police work broke up cells and prevented any explosion from being carried out before the vote.

Three legal opposition groups which had dismissed the election beforehand as a farce hailed its result afterward. The formerly ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), cut loose by the army three years ago, was among them. So was Nahda, the main Muslim fundamentalist party that has been allowed to function openly. Even more impressively, the banned FIS -- the undoubted majority in 1992 -- echoed their call for dialogue and recognized the legitimacy of President Zeroual.

He and his military backers should not spurn this offer. It is a chance to end the insurgency and reciprocal murders that have taken 40,000 Algerian lives in three years. It is what France, which has major Algerian interests and which absorbed the blows of terrorists for recognizing the Zeroual regime, seeks. This was not a free election in that major parties were not eligible. The next elections should correct that.

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