* FFS party says hopes to change political status quo
* Party is Algeria's biggest opposition force
* It has boycotted all nationwide elections since 1997
By Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS, March 2 Algeria's biggest
opposition party said on Friday it would take part in a May 10
parliamentary election, ending a 15-year boycott and lending
credibility to government promises the vote will be more
democratic than in the past.
Energy exporter Algeria, so far largely untouched by the
"Arab Spring" revolts that toppled leaders in three of its
neighbours, is now under pressure at home and from abroad to
loosen the ruling elite's tight grip on power.
The decision by the Front of Socialist Forces (FFS) to run
follows a government agreement to invite Western election
monitors for the first time and an undertaking to give the next
parliament a big say in re-writing the constitution.
"Our goal is to mobilise Algerians peacefully and
politically to change the institutional political status quo,"
FFS Secretary General Ali Laskri was quoted as telling state
The FFS is a secularist party which has strong support among
Algeria's large Berber ethnic minority.
Its de facto leader, Hocine Ait Ahmed, was one of the
leaders of the movement which fought for independence from
colonial ruler France, but he went into opposition soon after
Algerian won independence in 1962.
If the party had boycotted this year's election, it would
have encouraged many voters to abstain and damaged the vote's
"We are happy to come back to the political arena. We hope
we will make a difference by building democracy in Algeria,"
Rachid Ait Hamadouche, an FFS activist, told Reuters.
Islamist opposition parties, buoyed by the example of
Islamists coming to power in neighbouring countries in the wake
of the "Arab Spring", are expected to perform well in the
Algeria descended into a violent conflict in the early 1990s
when the military-backed government annulled a parliamentary
election which a radical Islamist movement was poised to win.
The conflict killed an estimated 200,000 people.
Islamist parties contesting this year's vote say they are
moderates who renounce violence, but some in the country's
secularist establishment say they cannot accept an Islamist
victory in the election.
(Editing by Christian Lowe and Andrew Heavens)