Repercussions of Bouteflika’s decision to abstain from running for elections remain vague

Daily News Egypt
9 Min Read

While the Algerian newly-appointed Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui has started talks to form a new government, which appears to be the latest move to appease protesters, experts cannot still expect certain repercussions for the decision of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s withdrawal to run for a fifth term.

Last week, the 82-year-old wheelchair-bound leader announced he will not run for a fifth term and will postpone the presidential elections, which were due to be held in April.

Noureddine Bedoui was appointed as prime minister last week after his predecessor Ahmed Ouyahia resigned in the wake of the mass protests. As Bedoui reportedly began working on the new government, prominent opposition leader Abderrazak Makri called on Bouteflika and the ruling elite to step down.

“The gang [the ruling authority] has refused to respond to the Algerian people until today and this moment. It has to listen to the voice of the street and implement what it wants,” said Makri, the head of the Islamist Movement for the Society of Peace, in an online statement last week.

Bedoui is a close ally of Bouteflika’s and has been tasked with bringing about political reforms until new presidential elections are held.  His government is also expected to organise a national conference, but no dates have been given for either the elections or the conference.

Views of foreign writers varied, as some of them believed that the decisions of Bouteflika turned a page from the history of modern Algeria, where the country will choose its successor, while some considered the step as ‘half a victory’ due to the street mobilisation.

Moreover, others questioned the move, saying it was to “gain time, and to give an opportunity in order to ensure the continuity of the ruling regime, but differently, through a respected figure who should know how to deal with the new balances.”

Writer Abdullah Raqdi at the London-based newspaper Raialyoum said that the engagement of the Algerian people was “a declaration of a new dawn for a society that decided to put an end to the path of decline and failure made by the current regime.”

Journalist Gihad El-Khazen said that, “Perhaps the demonstrations of hundreds of Algerians, and the scenes of millions of Algerians who filled the capital, among others, convinced the Algerian President not to continue in his position, or maybe the Algerian army realised that it should not stand against its citizens. It is important now that a page of Algeria’s modern history will unfold within weeks, and the country will choose a successor to Bouteflika.”

Prominent Yemeni journalist Sadek Nasher said Bouteflika’s decisions “have defused a deep crisis in the country, although they were unable to end it completely because many political parties continue to question its goal, but ultimately putting Algeria before political and social entitlements, and even a new constitution would completely change the face of the country in the coming decades.”

The writer warns that the widespread rejections of the step presented by the president “lends the next phase many concerns and fears, especially since Bouteflika’s supporters see the rejections as constitutional violations, and deliberate the extension of the current presidential mandate of Bouteflika,” which means that the crisis is still in place.

Earlier in February, President Bouteflika announced his intention to run for a fifth term in the upcoming elections scheduled in April.  His supporters believe that the leader is ‘mentally and intellectually’ capable of running the country.  However, since suffering from a stroke in 2013, he has rarely been seen in public and does not travel around the country or abroad–except for medical treatment.

Thousands of Algerians demonstrated in several cities across the country against the Algerian President Bouteflika’s declaration that he will run in the coming presidential election seeking a fifth presidential term.

The protesters were chanting against Bouteflika with slogans such as “No for fifth term,” and “No for Bouteflika,” as they waved the Algerian flag. They also clashed with the security forces who were intensively deployed in the capital’s main squares as well as major cities.

The protesters also chanted against Saeed Bouteflika, the younger brother of the Algerian President, who currently acts as his adviser, as well as Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, and they called for his dismissal.

Security forces responded with tear gas and cordoned off the May 1 Square in the capital Algiers, and prevented protesters from entering it. Algeria’s authorities have banned demonstrations in the capital city since 2001.

These protests were the largest in Algeria since 2001. Despite intensive security measures in Algiers, calls to protest against Bouteflika’s presidential candidacy succeeded to attract thousands of citizens after opposition political parties called for marches outside the capital. Security forces have been actively restricting the protesters’ movements, blocking their roads, and dispersing gatherings.

Kada Ben Amar, Algerian writer for the daily newspaper Echourouk, said that what was achieved after Bouteflika’s letter was “half a victory, which dropped the fifth oath which was not logical at all.” The president himself admitted that he did not want to run from the beginning, but at the same time, this came to contain the anger of the street and invest in Algeria’s peace in order to direct the country and the people toward a genuine change, as the archaic faces no longer have a place nor role in it.

Ben Amar stated, “The time has come for everyone to raise their voices of reason, including the street which began to resort to the elites, perhaps to find someone who deserves to speak and negotiate in their names in the next stage.”

“The language of reason in this matter is to accept the principle of dialogue on the foundations of the new Algerian political system, and decide on who will be in charge of steering the ship, as well as how to set a realistic calendar which will determine the way to prepare a constitution based on the new republic and then to adopt it,” he said, adding, “This is the plan of action for the next phase.”

This comes as some writers doubt Bouteflika’s recent decisions. Khairallah Khairallah from the London-based Al Arab newspaper says that it is clear that “the goal of the narrow circle surrounding Bouteflika is to gain time to plan.”

“It simply means that members of this narrow circle want Bouteflika to remain president, even if they are right, until the end of the year,” he said, adding, “In any case, the unknown title of Algeria’s current phase after the Bouteflika page, will remain.”

The writer refers to the need for “a new system in which the beginning is to recognise that Algeria is a third world country, and it needs a different system which rearranges priorities, including attention to what the average citizen wants and needs.”

In the same context, writer Al-Habib Al-Aswad says that President Bouteflika, in his decisions, “wanted a deadline to rearrange the papers again, giving them and those around them an opportunity to ensure continuity, but differently, through a respected figure who knows how to deal with balances.”

Writer Tawfiq Rabahi said the ruling regime in Algeria “cannot leave the political and electoral game open to the unknown.” He added that the participation of what he described as “false witnesses” in the upcoming presidential elections, “gives the regime a new legitimacy of another four years.”

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