OPINION: Escaping Bouteflika's Shadow
Algeria’s leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika declared that he would not seek a fifth term as president on March 11. The president’s announcement follows weeks of widespread demonstrations throughout Algeria protesting Bouteflika’s intention to seek re-election. Millions of protesters took to the streets in an unprecedented display of public defiance towards the regime, reported Al Jazeera.
Bouteflika’s revolutionary track record fueled a successful political career after Algeria achieved independence in 1962, propelling him to the presidency in 1999, Reuters reports. He has ruled for 20 years. With Bouteflika’s deteriorating physical condition, many Algerians feared the longtime president’s fifth bid for re-election was merely a ploy orchestrated by Algeria’s political and military elites seeking to use Bouteflika as a puppet, according to Al Jazeera.
Bouteflika delayed the election scheduled for April 18, calling for a constitutional reform conference to be held before a new president is picked, Al Jazeera reports. The president’s declaration was met with jubilant celebration; nevertheless, many Algerians remain skeptical. Critics fear Bouteflika’s concession is an empty gesture and that, once public pressure abates, the ancien regime will persist under new, handpicked leadership. Without specifics about new election dates or procedures, Algeria’s political future remains uncertain. Demonstrators will continue protests until the government provides more concrete details, according to Al Jazeera.
Algerians are right to remain prudent. An entrenched cabal of business and political leaders, the pillars of Bouteflika’s regime, remain in power and they will not readily give up their authority. Unless this clique of powerbrokers is uprooted, we likely cannot expect meaningful political reform to take hold in Algeria. The outcome of demonstrations rests largely with the Algerian military, the country’s ultimate arbitrators. So far, the military has permitted protests, but as Bouteflika retreats from power, this policy may change. All the demonstrators can do now is simply keep up the pressure.