“Is it the beginning of the end,” the editorial of the Algerian daily Al-Mudjahidasked on 1 April.
The pro-government paper, like the officials who previously served as pillars of support for Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika,had shifted against him, rallying instead behind Military Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Saleh who has been rallying for a week to remove the 82 year old ailing president from power.
On Tuesday, he issued a strongly worded statement saying that article 102 of the constitution will be implemented immediately by declaring Bouteflika unfit to rule. The ailing president resigned shortly after.
Saleh, who is also deputy defence minister, proposed on 26 March that Algeria’s Constitutional Council should invoke Article 102 of the country’s constitution to declare Bouteflika unfit for office.
Bouteflika has not been seen in public since 2013 when a stroke limited his speech and movement. However, he still successfully ran for a fourth presidential term of office in 2014 after then prime minister Abdel-Malek Sellal stepped down to campaign on his behalf.
In massive protests on 29 March, Algerian demonstrators demanded that Saleh, along with Bouteflika, must step down. Perceived as just another manoeuver to buy time and maintain the status quo, Saleh’s call to declare Bouteflika unfit for office was rejected.
“Gaid Saleh is not saleh [fit]” and “Bouteflika, take Saleh with you” placards carried by protesters said on Friday. “No to more manoeuvers,” they chanted.
Algerians have been takingto the streets in protest against Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in officesince February in elections originally scheduled for 18 April.He was forced to revoke his bid on 11 March, when he also postponed the elections and offered a national dialogue.
However, the protests continued, eventually developing into a damning outcry against the entire system of government in the country which tens of thousands of Algerians are now insisting must go.
On Saturday, Saleh reiterated his call to invoke Article 102, but this time also added Articles 7 and 8 which stipulate that power belongs to the people through elected assemblies and referendums and that the president may have direct recourse to the popular will.
Under Article 102 of the Constitution, it is up to theConstitutional Council to determine whether the president is fit to continue exercising his duties. In the event that the council unanimously decides that he is not, it can propose that the parliament declares him unfit to rule by a two-thirds majority.
Abdel-Kader ben Salah, head of the Council of the Nation, the parliament’s upper house, would then become interim president for up to 45 days.
If the president’s inability continues for more than 45 days, the head of the councilwill continue to rule for another 90 days, after which presidential elections will beheld.
In this scenario, Bouteflika would have been beeffectively removed from the scene, while the regime would get 135 days to manage the transitional period.
“Article 102 aims to regenerate a regime that has been strongly rejected in its entirety by Algerians,” said professor of public law Mouloud Boumghar.“In five months the political and legal conditions for a free election will not be met, the oligarchs will continue to enjoy public money, the regime will maintain its authoritarianism and the predatory economy and its henchmen will be in key positions to stage electoral fraud,” he wrote in an article on Website Middle East Eye.
If we agree to the enforcement of Article 102, “we accept that the popular mobilisation that refused to extend Bouteflika’s fourth term has ultimately been left with an extended fourth term without Bouteflika and with the regime unchanged,” he added.
In a statement on 30 March following a meeting with military commanders, Saleh said that invoking Article 102 was the only guarantee to maintain political stability in Algeria. He added that the majority of Algerians had welcomed his proposal, but accused “ill-intentioned parties” of trying to undermine the army and
“circumvent the people’s legitimate demands.”
He alleged that a meeting had been held on the same day “by well-known figures” to launch a vicious media campaign to falsely portray the protesters’ rejection of Article 102.
The Constitutional Council initially did not react to Saleh’s proposal.
“Accompanied by deafening media hype, Article 102 is being marketed as the only solution to the impasse of the system and with Saleh as supreme saviour,” wrote Hacen Ouali in the independent French-language El-Watan.
However, like that of other Algerian politicians who have long supported Bouteflika and have been integral parts of the system, Saleh’s credibility was being questioned, he added.
Ouali argued that entrusting upper house Speaker Ben Salah, a man embodying the regime in its most hated aspects, with the management of such a sensitive period would be“too much of a provocation.”
Hours after Saleh’s second statement, Ali Haddad, a business tycoon who financed Bouteflika’s 2014 presidential campaign, was arrested at the Tunisian border attempting to leave Algeria.
The following day a list of businessmen close to Bouteflika who had been banned from travelling was announced by the Algerian public prosecutor.
The move coincided with a major cabinet reshuffle followed by reports that Bouteflika intendedto submit his resignation and rumours, denied vehemently by the defense ministry, that Saleh had been sacked.
On Monday, the presidency issued a statement saying that Bouteflika would step down before his term ends on 28 April. Meanwhile, he would undertake
“important measures to ensure that state institutions continue to function during the transition period,” the statement read.
It was unclear then whether the move had been coordinated with the army or was a step intended to thwart Saleh’s proposal. Bouteflika’s “important” decisions in the coming days or weeks were as vague as Algeria’s current power-struggle.
On Tuesday evening, Saleh issued a statement following a meeting with the army leadership saying that articles 7, 8 and 102 of the constitution must be implemented immediately.
The statement rejected what it described as “unconstitutional” decisions issued of late in reference to the presidential announcement pledging Bouteflika’s resignation before 28 April.
The statement also derided what it described as the “bandit” in reference to Bouteflika’s inner circle. Less than two hours after the statement, Bouteflika submitted his resignation to the Constitutional Council.
Until Al-Ahram Weekly went to press on Tuesday evening, unconfirmed reports on the arrest of his influential brother Said were circulating in Algeria.
How Algerians will react to the resignation and the army’s clampdown on the “bandit” remains to be seen on Friday when tens of thousands take to the streets for the seventh successive week.
In central Algiers hundreds gathered in the late evening to celebrate Bouteflika’s resignation. “The people want them all to go,” they chanted.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Bouteflika resigns