As Algerian President Abdul-Aziz Bouteflika submitted his candidacy papers at the country’s Constitutional Council on Sunday, rival candidates announced their withdrawal from the presidential elections scheduled for April while demonstrators around the country continued to protest against Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term.
According to the Algerian Press Service (APS), it was Bouteflika’s campaign director Abdelghani Zaalane who submitted his papers amidst reports that Bouteflika himself was still in Geneva receiving medical treatment.
Seven other candidates have officially submitted their papers to the Constitutional Council: President of the Infitah Movement Omar Bouacha, President of the Mustaqbal Front Abdelaziz Belaid, President of the National Victory Party (PVN) Adoul Mahfoudh, President of the National Al-Bina Movement Abdelkader Bengrina, Algerian Rally leader Ali Zeghdoud, and, running as independents, Abdelhakim Hamadi and retired general Ali Ghediri.
Under Algerian electoral law, candidacy papers must include a list of supporters signed either by at least 600 elected representatives from municipal, governorate or national assemblies across at least 25 governorates, or by at least 60,000 registered voters from across at least 25 governorates with no fewer than 1,500 signatories from each governorate.
Candidates must also submit a written pledge not to exploit the three components of Algerian national identity, Islam and the Arab and Amazigh ethnic affiliations, for partisan ends, to honour the principles of 1 November 1954, the beginning of the country’s War of Independence against France, to uphold and obey the constitution and the law, to safeguard national territorial integrity and to respect the democratic rotation of power through free elections.
According to Article 73 of the Algerian Constitution, prospective presidential candidates must be of Algerian nationality by origin, Muslim, and at least 40 years old on election day. They must also enjoy full civil and political rights and be able to prove that their spouse is an Algerian national.
They must be able to establish that they have lived in Algeria continuously for at least ten years before submitting their candidacy papers.
For candidates born before 1942, they must prove that they took part in the revolution of 1 November 1954, and, for those born after 1942, they must prove that their parents were not involved in actions hostile to the revolution.
After filing Bouteflika’s candidacy papers, his campaign director read out a message to the Algerian people in which Bouteflika pledged that if elected he would organise an inclusive and independent national conference to debate, elaborate and adopt political, institutional, economic and social reforms and then organise new presidential elections within a year in which he would not stand for re-election.
“A national conference is the only way out of the current situation,” Bouteflika said, suggesting that he is searching for an honourable exit in the face of widespread opposition to his candidacy.
In his message, published by the APS, Bouteflika also pledged to draft a new constitution that would be submitted to a popular referendum and to institute measures intended to fundamentally change the ruling system.
These would include the rapid implementation of policies to ensure a fairer and more equitable redistribution of national wealth, to eliminate social marginalisation and exclusion and to fight the scourge of illegal migration and all forms of corruption, he said.
He also committed himself to overhauling the electoral law, which would include provisions to create an independent electoral mechanism exclusively tasked with organising elections.
By Sunday evening, the deadline for the official submission of candidacy papers, there had been no official announcement from the office of the president that Bouteflika had returned from his latest “periodic check-up” in Geneva, sparking a debate over whether candidates must submit their papers to the Constitutional Council in person.
According to the APS, neither the constitution nor the current electoral law stipulates how the candidacy papers must be submitted.
Article 139 of the electoral law stipulates the deposition of registration applications by electoral candidates with the Constitutional Council in exchange for receipts proving their submission.
Nothing in the law obliges a presidential candidate to submit the papers in person, it stressed.
However, in a brief news item the previous day the APS appeared to have contradicted itself. On this occasion it said that according to Article 140 of the electoral law applications must be submitted within 45 days of the presidential decree to hold the election and that “the application must be submitted by the applicant himself.”
One of the first prospective candidates to react to Bouteflika’s candidacy was Ali Benflis, leader of the Talaie Al-Hourriyet (Vanguard of Freedoms) Party, who in a press conference convened at his party’s headquarters announced that “current political circumstances do not permit me to take part in the forthcoming presidential elections
.” Noting that the elections were important regardless of whether his party took part, Benflis said that “current circumstances demand that the people’s voice be heard.”
Benflis has earlier run for election as president twice, coming second on both occasions.
In like manner, the Movement of Society for Peace (Hamas or HMS), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Algeria, announced its decision to withdraw from the elections following the official announcement of Bouteflika’s candidacy.
The movement was a partner in the coalition governing Algeria from 2004 to 2012.
Observers predict that Bouteflika will prevail in the forthcoming elections despite his ailing health and the demonstrations against him that have now entered their second week.
APS reported that hundreds of students affiliated with the faculties of medicine and humanities in Ben Aknoun and other parts of the country had staged demonstrations to protest against Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth mandate as president.
The demonstrators carried pickets saying “peaceful march,” “dignity and respect for students,” and “free the universities, free Algeria.”
According to the news agency, a heavy security presence was on hand to forestall disorder. Yet, some fear that the longer the protests continue, the greater the risk that they could escalate out of control, especially in the light of the heightened tensions surrounding them due to uncertainties regarding Bouteflika’s health and the pressures of a range of urgent social and economic issues.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Further turmoil in Algeria