Against all odds and expectations, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will seek re-election for a fifth term as President of Algeria. His party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), submitted only one nominee—President Bouteflika—for the upcoming presidential elections, which are scheduled to take place in the spring of 2019.
During a meeting with the parliamentary bloc on October 28, Secretary-General of the FLN, Jamal Weld Abbas, announced that “the party had no other choice for the upcoming presidential elections. Our only candidate and our only choice is President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.” Weld Abbas went on to say that “all the FLN cadres and activists across the country [have] demanded [Bouteflika’s] candidacy” in order to continue the process of “progress and reform” in the country.
Bouteflika’s nomination has sparked much controversy in this country of a million and half “martyrs” who sacrificed their lives in defending against the French colonialists. The controversy surrounding Bouteflika’s standing for re-election is especially heated because of the current state of the president’s health. He has been almost completely paralyzed since he suffered a stroke in 2013, and has not orally addressed his people since May 8, 2012. All of his speeches since then have been delivered by either government officials or representatives from his party.
In his bid for a fourth presidential term, the president cast his ballot from a wheelchair. He has been wheelchair-bound ever since. He could neither attend official ceremonies nor meet foreign envoys or make public inaugurations. During the celebrations of Algerian Independence Day on July 5 this year, for instance, in his absence a huge picture of Bouteflika headed the procession of the security and military forces in an unprecedented spectacle. The Algerian government’s failure to find an alternative to the 81-year-old president in a country of more than 37 million people is indeed absurd and incomprehensible.
In a statement to Al-Magharibia TV channel, Zoubida Assoul, president of the Union for Change and Progress party, stated that the nomination of President Bouteflika was something that was “expected by the opportunists and profiteers who care only about their interests.” Assoul continued: “We cannot say that these people care about Algeria or about the Algerian citizens, nor about the president himself. Amidst the severe political, social and financial crises in Algeria today, speaking about the fifth term is just absurd!. . . These people want to perpetuate the status quo which only serves their interests, to the detriment of Algeria and Algerians.”
The candidacy of the ailing president has cast a cloud of doubt, despair, and uncertainty among Algerians, who are now convinced that the country is actually ruled by the army and the “strong hawks” of the FLN party. Bouteflika can neither speak nor move, and may even be unaware of what is happening around him. It is said that powerful individuals (mainly military officials and FLN members) in the country, who are intent on maintaining their power and control over the country’s resources, are exploiting the frail state of President Bouteflika’s health.
Algeria, the largest country in Africa, is rich in natural gas and oil. In 2017, Algeria’s total natural gas production amounted to around 91.2 billion cubic meters. Algeria’s exports of natural gas and oil products provide more than 95 percent of the country’s export revenues and 60 percent of its budget. However, due to political corruption, the country still languishes in a range of severe social, economic, and financial problems. During the last 15 years, a purported amount of one trillion dollars was squandered on specious projects that have yet to come to fruition.
What adds insult to injury, according to Assoul, is that no civil servants in Algeria will accept accountability for official government decisions, in a blatant violation of the Algerian constitution. Mohamed Al-Arbi Zitout, a political dissident under self-imposed exile in London, told Al-Magharibia TV that “the ones who control Algeria today, not to say rule it, are a bunch of corrupt politicians who smuggled their money overseas to Bahrain, UAE, Europe and to many other places in the world. Those who support the fifth term benefit, somehow, from the current regime and want to perpetuate it.”
Algerian social media activists largely reacted to Weld Abbas’ announcement of Bouteflika as the party’s candidate with irony and ridicule. A commentator wrote on Facebook that Bouteflika’s candidacy is “a horror film” that nobody wishes to watch again. Another commentator wrote: “Finally, they announced the candidacy of his Excellency President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for the fifth term to lead the country straight down into the abyss.” A group of social and political activists took to the streets of Annaba on the evening of November 1 to protest Bouteflika’s candidacy, but security forces intervened and dispersed the protestors by force.
Bouteflika is Algeria’s fifth president and he has been in office for 19 years, longer than any other president. One of his most highly acclaimed accomplishments is achieving a national reconciliation between the government and various Islamic rebel groups after the decade-long Algerian Civil War, which lasted from 1992 to 2002. The “war of the black decade,” as Algerians call it, claimed the lives of more than 150,000 victims in atrocious massacres across the country and cost $25 billion, according to official Algerian statistics. Algerian political dissidents claim, however, that during Bouteflika’s reign, political and economic corruption reached unprecedented levels, leading to the squandering of the country’s resources and the loss of many development opportunities.
Today, as the octogenarian president and his party are preparing for candidacy, Algerians and the public worldwide wonder what lies in store for the future of Algeria.