Algeria's Crisis: Pressure mounts on Bouteflika

Kamel Abdallah , Wednesday 27 Mar 2019

Though Algeria’s Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika called for national dialogue, he found himself no longer president and his position is announced vacant

Algrian Protesters
People carry national flags and banners during a protest calling on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, in Algiers, Algeria March 26, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)

On Tuesday Algeria’s Army Chief Ahmed Gazed Salah asked for the presidency to be vacated. “We must find a way out of this crisis immediately, within the constitution’s framework,” he said. Accordingly the Upper House Chairman Abdel-Kader Bensalah is the caretaker for at least 45 days.

The opposition forces in Algeria had rejected the roadmap for a transitional phase laid out by President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika on 11 March after he retracted his bid to seek a fifth term in office and postponed presidential elections that had been scheduled for 18 April.

Bouteflika, at the time, appointed former Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui prime minister to succeed Ahmed Ouyahia, who resigned in the wake of many weeks of mass protests, and charged him with forming a new government that would oversee the implementation of the roadmap that called for a national dialogue conference, the drafting of a new constitution, the establishment of an independent electoral commission, and fundamental political reforms.

Bedoui promised to form an inclusive technocratic government, but his efforts to hammer one together have so far failed and it is widely expected that he will tender his resignation.

Algeria had been swept by weeks of mass rallies since 22 February when Bouteflika announced that he intended to run for a fifth term.

The octogenarian president has reportedly been in poor health since he suffered a stroke five years ago and has only been seen in public on rare occasions.

Protesters opposed his bid and also called for sweeping reforms to the system of government that has been in place since Algeria won its independence in 1962.

The Algerian opposition has proposed an alternative roadmap. On Saturday, 23 March, an assembly of representatives for opposition forces called for a much shorter transition period, not to exceed six months, that would begin at the end of the current presidential term.

During that period, “the powers of the outgoing president will be transferred to a presidential body composed of national figures reputed for their credibility, integrity and competence.

The body will be tasked with the pursuit of the people’s demands and its members will refrain from running in the next presidential elections,” read the communique issued by participants at the “sixth consultation meeting of opposition parties, trade union representatives and national figures” held at the headquarters of the Algerian Front for Development, Freedom and Justice (FADLJ).

The body “will assume the prerogatives of the head of state and appoint a government of competent national figures to manage affairs and to create an independent national commission to organise elections and revise the electoral law so as to ensure free and fair presidential elections.” The statement also called on the military establishment to respond to the demands of the people and help fulfil these demands “in the framework of the respect for popular legitimacy”.

According to the statement, published by the national news agency Algeria Press Service (APS), the participants at the meeting will “continue consultations on the issues and the further measures needed to realise the people’s demands” and “designate a timeframe, not to exceed six months, that will incorporate the articles of the roadmap”.

The communique added, “The debate on the roadmap will continue in order to determine the details and the appropriate mechanisms that best achieve the popular demands,” thereby leaving the door open to other initiatives.

Bouteflika’s party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), has come out in support of the people’s demands, which some observers believed was a sign that the party might relinquish its support for the president. Conflicting statements from within the party reflect growing divisions among its rank and file on how to handle the current situation.

In an official communique, published by APS on Sunday, 24 March, the FLN reaffirmed its commitment to organising and taking part in the activities of the “inclusive national dialogue” that Bouteflika had called for two weeks ago.

Stressing that the party’s positions were expressed by means of “official statements issued by its leadership”, the communique reaffirmed the party’s “commitment to the roadmap determined by the president of the republic in which he pledged a collection of radical reforms aiming to build a new Algeria and to respond to the aspirations of the Algerian people who yearn for further political, economic and social reforms”.

The president’s message to the Algerian people on 11 March “was explicit in its aims to lead Algeria out of this crisis”, the communique added.

However, FLN Spokesman Hussein Khaldoun, in remarks to the Algerian news channel, Dzair TV on Saturday evening, called for new presidential elections instead of the national conference that Bouteflika had called for “as part of a plan to remain in office”.

The national conference, “will not solve the crisis in the country” and would be “a waste of time”, Khaldoun said, adding that what was needed was the creation of an independent commission to organise elections and the amendment of some articles of the electoral law preparatory to the election of a new president chosen by the people to address the people and speak in the name of the popular movement.

Khaldoun’s remarks reflect a sharp division in the ruling party as popular demands mount for the dissolution of the ruling party. The NFL is “a common historical denominator among all Algerians” and its dissolution will “prevent the political exploitation of the name of the framework of the Algerian revolution”, said a statement by the influential National Organisation for Mujahideen (ONM), an organisation that represents veterans of the Algerian War of Independence from France (1954-1962).

The ONM, in its statement released on Saturday, urged Algerians “to distinguish between the National Liberation Front that led the Algerian people to liberation and victory over colonialism and the party that, today, has become a byword for all forms of corruption, causing the people to demand its departure which, in turn, confirms that the party has been exploited as an instrument for rotating power throughout half a century”.

The ONM called for “the liberation of the FLN” so that it could be restored to the status it merited and prevented from being exploited by any agent because “it is the historical legacy shared by all loyal members of the people”. It was therefore crucial to “draw a definitive line between the FLN that led the revolution and the party that has abused power”.

Meanwhile, the prime minister designate Noureddine Bedoui, who has been unable to form a new government since he was assigned that task over two weeks ago, has been in contact with ministers from the former government in the hope of forming a caretaker government while he continues his efforts. Al-Ahram Weekly confirmed that, until Sunday night, the Algerian government’s Website only shows the names and pictures of the prime minister and deputy prime minister, Noureddine Bedoui and Ramtane Lamamra, on the government’s cabinet page.

All previous government ministers have been removed. There is a likelihood that Bedoui will resign if his efforts to form a new government continue to run up against the reluctance of prominent figures to be associated with an entity that is part of a roadmap rejected by the popular movement demanding a total overhaul of the system of government.

Algerian sources expect that if popular pressure continues to mount, authorities will announce the vacancy of the presidency in mid-April, which is when Bouteflika’s fourth term ends.

On Sunday evening, the parliamentary independents bloc and the Ahrar (MPs who are “non-inscrit” or “not-attached” to any of the parliamentary blocs) urged the Speaker of the National People’s Assembly (APN) Mouad Bouchareb to convene an extraordinary session of parliament.

A joint statement by these two parliamentary contingents read: “In view of the grand popular movement our country is experiencing and in our capacity as representatives of the people, required to voice their concerns and demands, we ask you to convene an emergency session to discuss the general situation and to produce a statement and measures, in accordance with the powers vested in us by law, commensurate to the aspirations of our people and to the future of our country. The session should be aired live on public and private television stations.”

The joint statement, published by APS Sunday evening, was signed by Osmani Lamine, head of the independents bloc, and Nazih Berramdane, leader of the Ahrar (non-inscrits).

The suggestion of an emergency sessions raises the possibility of the APN declaring a vacancy in the presidency, in accordance to Article 102 of the Algerian Constitution which addresses the question of the transfer of authority in the event the president’s office falls vacant due to illness or death, or other such circumstances.

According to this article, the president of the National Assembly assumes the functions of the president for a period of no more than 90 days during which presidential elections must be organised. The interim president may not run in those elections.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Pressure mounts on Bouteflika

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