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Algeria’s Bouteflika to resign before his term ends on 28 April

By Farid Alilat, Neila Latrous and Rania Hamdi
Posted on Tuesday, 2 April 2019 16:40

Algeria's senate president Abdelkader Bensalah is set to take over from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and organise new elections. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Under tremendous pressure from the street and his former allies, on 1 April, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that he would step down before the end of his term on 28 April.

When Bouteflika resigns, he is due to be replaced by Abdelkader Bensalah, who is president of the Conseil de la Nation – Algeria’s senate.

Who is Bensalah?

If Bouteflika follows the procedures for his resignation in the constitution’s Article 102, Bensalah will become interim president and would have 90 days in order to organise new elections. He has been Bouteflika’s constitutional successor since 2002. Bensalah is a hardline supporter of Bouteflika who has avoided public pronouncements since the first signs of the regime’s weakness began to show earlier this year.

  • One senator who requests anonymity says: “He is a quite force in support of the regime. We have never seen him behave in a disloyal way. He is the perfect example of empty doublespeak.”
  • He almost never talks to journalists, backed Bouteflika’s attempt to run for a fifth term and uses his public speeches to support the current political framework – which massive street protests are seeking to upend.
  • He is a founding member of the Rassemblement National Démocratique (RND), a party created to lend support to Bouteflika. Its most prominent member is Ahmed Ouyahia, who was recently sacked as prime minister.

What are Bensalah’s challenges?

  • Several politicians, including Lakhdar Benkhellaf, head of the Islamist party El Adala‘s parliamnetary grouping, say that Bensalah have said that Bensalah previously had Moroccan nationality.
  • Bensalah is also 77 years old and suffers from cancer. A viral video of him looking tired at a recent international conference had the tagline: “What good is it to replace an old and sick president with a president who is also old and sick?”

What led to Bouteflika’s downfall?

While Bouteflika’s 1 April announcement seems like a big victory for street protests, there were several other forces that played a critical role in getting the regime to crumble.

  • Ahmed Gaïd Salah, deputy defence minister and chief of staff of the army, spoke for the country’s powerful military. On 26 March, he said that the country’s institutions should declare the ailing Bouteflika incapable of carrying out his duties, using Article 102 of the constitution.
  • Fissures in the security services showed that the hands of those around Bouteflika were beginning to lose control. The police and the military have been at daggers drawn over the seizure of a 701kg haul of cocaine seized at the port of Oran.
  • Powerful presidential brother Saïd Bouteflika reported flagging support for the idea of a fifth term for President Bouteflika back in January.
  • The Organisation Nationale des Moudjahidine, the body made up of former fighters in the independence struggle, expressed its dissatisfaction with Bouteflika when talking with campaign director Abdelmalek Sellal in February. One participant at the meeting said the message was: “Anyone you want, but not Bouteflika.”
  • Even the zaouïas, Algeria’s Islamic brotherhoods, lost faith in Bouteflika and voiced their concerns about his plans.
  • Bouteflika’s campaign team also fell apart after Sellal squabbled with officials appointed by Saïd.

From the economy side, many business leaders refused to finance Bouteflika’s campaign and began to support the popular protests. On the other hand, former Forum des Chefs d’Entreprises leader Ali Haddad, an ally of Saïd’s, argued that there was only a small group leading the protests and that the government should try to crush them. The Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens labour unions was one of the last bastions of power to fall. Led by Sidi Saïd, a fervent Bouteflika supporter, it eventually called for the Conseil Constitutionnel to declare Bouteflika unfit to rule.

What will be the impact on the country’s top political parties?

The fight over Bouteflika’s downfall could lead to the splitting of both his Front National de Libération (FLN) and the RND.

  • Mouad Bouchareb, who took was parachuted in to lead the FLN late last year, is under attack.
  • With the streets filled with protesters, the RND is dealing with its internal grievances. Ahmed Ouyahia has a rebellion on his hands. Party co-founder Belkacem Mellah is leading a group seeking to sack Ouyahia, saying that the party has sold out. “The vast majority of deputies and senators are billionaires,” Mellah complains.

What next for Bouteflika?

Sources say that in early March Bouteflika’s entourage began preparations for a move to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The family owns a huge property and presidential brother Abdelghani works as a lawyer there.

These articles first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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