The Race is on to Thwart Algerian President Bouteflika’s Fifth Term

Nearly 200 candidates have been nominated in the Algerian presidential elections to be held on April 18. Ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to run for another five-year term has sparked significant opposition and disrupted Algeria’s fragile political stability.
The Race is on to Thwart Algerian President Bouteflika’s Fifth Term
Image by: Abdelillah Arahal/Inside Arabia

Amid growing frustration caused by President Bouteflika’s absences and infrequent communication over the past five years, 186 candidates have declared their intentions to run for President in the upcoming elections. These candidates are working together to curb the influence and power of Bouteflika, who has dominated the Algerian political scene for two decades.

Bouteflika appointed his adviser, Tayeb Belaiz, to an eight-year term as head of Algeria’s Constitutional Council in early February.

Bouteflika appointed his adviser, Tayeb Belaiz, to an eight-year term as head of Algeria’s Constitutional Council in early February. Belaiz’s appointment just months before the election suggests that Bouteflika is confident of an unchallenged presidential run.  Indeed, the Constitutional Council’s mission is to validate presidential candidates in elections, control and monitor polls, and announce the final results. The Council is also charged with assessing whether a president is fit to fulfill his duties in the event of “serious and lasting illness.”

Bouteflika’s “Immortality” Versus Algerians’ Aspirations

Although uncertainty over Bouteflika’s ability to run for a fifth consecutive term is prevalent, the leader declared that his “unwavering desire to serve” Algeria has never left him. He added that his decision to run again was influenced by fellow members of the National Liberation Front (FLN), Algeria’s ruling party after they nominated him to represent them.

Bouteflika has been confined to a wheelchair since he suffered a stroke in 2013. FLN’s coordinator, Mouad Bouchareb, officially announced Bouteflika’s candidacy on his behalf. Bouchareb essentially called upon the Algerian people to support Bouteflika during his long health crisis.

Bouteflika who, if he wins, will be 87 years old by the end of another term.

Bouteflika who, if he wins, will be 87 years old by the end of another term. Bouchareb declared that Bouteflika’s fifth term would allow the president to “overcome difficulties related to illness.” He also underscored that he is “no longer as physically strong” as he was in the past.  

Bouchareb, who only addressed Bouteflika’s health, did not unveil a new electoral agenda. He did not explain how a fifth term might differ from the four previous ones or how it might meet the aspirations of the Algerian people, who have seen their country declining under Bouteflika’s leadership.

When the Arab Spring protests erupted in 2011, Algeria was spared a major upheaval such as that neighboring Tunisia experienced.  Nevertheless, the Algerian people hoped their government would be inspired to reform the nation proactively without citizens having to take to the streets to demand real change.

Some have characterized Bouteflika’s hold on power as “stability,” on the assumption that a call for serious reform or the fall of the regime would cause unrest in the country and create uncertainty. Many Algerians recall the terror of the brutal civil war that left 200,000 people dead and 15,000 more missing.

The military, Algeria’s de facto ruling power, also sees Bouteflika as a symbol of stability in the country. Therefore, it continues to reinforce the masses’ fears of instability in Algeria to increase support for Bouteflika’s attempt to secure a fifth presidential term.

Youth unemployment has hovered at 11.7 percent for the past two years. In addition, Algeria, which mainly relies on its oil and gas reserves, has not reformed or diversified its economy by bringing in new investments.

The lack of opportunity at home has propelled many young Algerians toward Europe in search of a better future. In 2018, 4,000 died in the Mediterranean Sea, while 12,000 Algerians were intercepted at European borders between January and October.

Meanwhile, citizens have express their opposition on social media to Bouteflika’s election bid and have encouraged people to vote against the status quo. They launched two hashtags, #LetHimRest and #NoFortheFifthTerm, which have spread like wildfire.

Massive anti-government protests began more than a week ago and are continuing, including journalists calling for democracy and the right to cover such protests; a number of journalists have been arrested.

Hafid Derradji, an Algerian sports commentator for the Qatar-based beIN Sports, criticized Bouteflika’s use of a proxy to announce his intention to run for reelection. He wrote that the act of announcing a candidacy without seeing the candidate is “unprecedented.” Derradji added that Algerians should not remain silent, otherwise they would only be contributing to the deterioration of their homeland.

Islamists Unite to Bring Bouteflika Down

While approximately 13  parties have welcomed Bouteflika’s candidacy to preserve the country’s “stability and peace,” the Justice and Development Front (JDF) has taken a different position.

While approximately 13  parties have welcomed Bouteflika’s candidacy to preserve the country’s “stability and peace,” the Justice and Development Front (JDF) has taken a different position. Led by Islamist opposition leader Abdullah Jaballah, the JDF has initiated negotiations with other candidates and parties to form a single, unified coalition. The coalition hopes to nominate and endorse one candidate to put an end to Bouteflika’s political career in April.  

The day after Bouteflika declared his present candidacy, Algeria’s largest Islamist party, the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), aligned with fellow Islamist parties to limit his regime. Since 2012, when Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Justice and Development Party in Morocco rose to power, the MSP has aspired to rule Algeria.

On January 26, 2019, the MSP named Abderrazak Makri as their presidential candidate. Makri is a leading Islamist figure in Algeria and is known for his firm opposition to Bouteflika.

Chairman of the JDF, Lakhdar bin Khallaf, has confirmed that plans to collectively identify a single candidate are underway, as is the reformed electoral program he plans to implement if he wins the elections. Khallaf stated that although time is running out (the closing date for candidacy is March 3), the desire to stand against Bouteflika and against electoral fraud is very strong.  

“When the opposition cooperates and stands behind one candidate and guards 60,000 polling stations, there will be an obstacle for those who want to falsify” the election results, added Khallaf.

However, observers predict that the Islamists may fail to jointly name one candidate because of their divergent visions and the absence of a shared national vision. In addition, there are candidates who might withdraw their candidacies because of their inability to compete against a sitting president with enormous financial resources and influence over media, administration, military, and police forces.

Algerians deserve a candidate who is equipped to take the country in a new direction.  Whether the Islamists are up to the task is an open question.

Algerians will determine their country’s fate on April 18: either Islamists will rise to power bringing uncertainty or Bouteflika will remain for another five years (assuming he lives that long), thus maintaining the country’s desired, but precarious political stability.