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Bouteflika’s Algeria exit decision; and what comes next

By Farid Alilat, in Algiers, and Neïla Latrous
Posted on Tuesday, 19 March 2019 17:55

People gather during a protest over President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's decision to postpone elections and extend his fourth term in office, in Algiers, Algeria 15 March 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's inner circle played a key role in his 11 March decision not to run for a fifth term amidst vast national protests calling for the end of this presidency and the system that has kept him in place.

The decision was a watershed moment, but how the regime is going to end is still up in the air.

Bouteflika’s fire-fighting crew

  • Six key figures were at a crisis meeting to save the regime on 11 March at the El-Mouradia palace: Saïd Bouteflika, the President’s brother and adviser; chief of army staff and deputy defence minister Ahmed Gaïd Salah; prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia; interior minister Moureddine Bedoui; Ramtane Lamamra, minister of state and diplomatic adviser; and Banamor Zerhouni, adviser to Bouteflika and the reputed writer behind the ailing President’s statements.
  • “Lamamra, the African”, known for his role in the African Union and Algeria’s diplomatic efforts, is a central player in the presidential circle. He has been trying to get the opposition and civil society to get on board with the government’s most recent plans.
  • Lamamra has also brought in the help of another diplomat, 85-year-old Lakhdar Brahimi, who oversaw a plan to reform the United Nations peacekeeping operations. His job is to take the pulse of the nation and see who the government could work with on the ‘inclusive’ national conference that is due to create a new constitution and open the way for elections.

The post-Bouteflika plan:

  • The plan is for Bouteflika not to run again and for the 18 April elections to be postponed indefinitely. Bouteflika also sacked his government and the national electoral commission.
  • The national conference, if it take place, will decide the fine details of post-Bouteflika governance. It is not clear when the national conference will take place, but it is supposed to include members of the regime, the opposition and civil society.

The response from the street has been clear. Protesters have rejected the Bouteflika clan’s plans in their entirety. A problem for Bouteflika is that the protest movement has no leaders, no spokesmen and no charismatic figureheads. It is also not showing any signs of slowing down.

  • Arezki, an artist and photographer, explains: “We asked for a presidential election without Bouteflika, and they are offering us Bouteflika without a presidential election.”
  • Protesters in the streets, who got their start on 13 February in a small march at Bordj Bou Arreridj, have been chanting “Neither Bouteflika nor his system”, pointing out that they reject the President’s allies and the institutions that they control.
  • In the meantime, there have been numerous resignations and calls for change from the ruling party, the Front de Libération Nationale. Even groups sympathetic to the regime, like the Forum des Chefs d’Entreprises business lobby and the Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens have been calling for change.

Constitutional crisis

  • Bouteflika’s plan creates a constitutional crisis. His term ends of 28 April, five years after he was sworn in in 2014. He announced on 18 March that he is going to stay in power beyond the end of his term.
  • His allies have two main strategies to deal with this. First is recourse to Article 107 of the constitution, which would allow Bouteflika to declare a state of emergency due to an “imminent threat to its institutions”. It would be the most direct option, but it risks worsening street protests. The second is changing the constitution in a hurry based on Article 208, which allows for amendments to the fundamental law. Normally getting such changes to the constitution through both houses of parliament could take up to a month.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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