Bouteflika 're-energised' in face of opposition attacks

Bouteflika 're-energised' in face of opposition attacks
The apparent recovery of Abdelaziz Bouteflika from serious illness has helped the government reject calls for snap presidential elections, but opposition forces are quietly taking advantage of power struggles within the regime.
4 min read
10 November, 2014
Bouteflika has been elected president four times [Getty]

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's recent activities suggest he has fully recovered from a serious illness that has hindered the country's body politic. He has made almost daily appearances on television, and has resumed meetings and protocol events, especially those involving ambassadors and foreign dignitaries.

Recently, Bouteflika has been particularly keen to hold meetings with overseas diplomats, even those representing countries that do not have significant political or economic relations with Algeria. Two days ago, Bouteflika met with the Peruvian ambassador, and earlier, the Algerian president received officials from China, France, and Greece.

The Algerian president's return to the political scene cannot be understood in isolation from the sharp political polarisation and open confrontation between the authorities and the opposition in the country.

The opposition continues to apply constant pressure on the government, with opposition forces forming a broad coalition that for the first time includes Islamist, nationalist, and democratic factions.

     The opposition continues to apply constant pressure on the government.

These opposition forces are dealing with a government apparently unwilling to listen to any other voice. They are particularly concerned with the preparation of a new draft constitution, which they fear will not be subject to a referendum or put to parliament for approval.

Election demand

Since April 2013, the opposition parties that form the Coordination for Change and Democracy alliance have demanded the Constitutional Council invoke Article 88 of the constitution, which declares the post of president vacant. Such a declaration would trigger snap presidential elections.

The opposition parties consider the presidency to be a vacant post on account of Bouteflika's striking absence from the political scene in recent months. Bouteflika was often not seen in public for lengthy periods, and was unable to engage in some of the activities that fell within his constitutional powers and remit.

Since 27 April 2013, Bouteflika has suffered from the consequences of an illness that saw him rushed to the Val-de-Grâce hospital in Paris. In November 2013, Bouteflika returned to the same hospital for medical tests.

However, his health problems did not stop him from contesting the presidential election on 17 April. Bouteflika appeared at a polling station casting his vote from a wheelchair, and eventually won the election without staging a campaign.

Bouteflika's response to allegations of absenteeism has not been constricted by the usual protocol. The Algerian president has announced a series of decrees - appointing new judges to the Supreme Court, the State Council, and other judicial councils, as well as reshuffling the diplomatic corps.

     Bouteflika's response to allegations of absenteeism has not been constricted by the usual protocol.

In addition, pro-government parties, especially the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the National Rally for Democracy have spared no effort to defend Bouteflika and attack opposition parties.

FLN Secretary-General Amar Saadani has claimed that opposition parties are irresponsible and are calling for political chaos when they demand snap elections. Saadani said that the opposition was trying to rectify its failures in previous elections.

Growing confusion

But statements critical of the opposition do not necessarily reflect strength and cohesion among the parties in power. Rather, they are early signs of the growing confusion within the regime, and the undeclared conflict between the intelligence services and the presidency.

This conflict has taken different forms, though perhaps the development that best demonstrates the existence of profound problems within the government is the unprecedented rebellion by police and security officers.

Two weeks ago, the police staged sit-ins and walkouts in the capital and a number of provinces, and even surrounded the presidential palace where they highlighted social grievances and called for the resignation of Director General of National Security Major General Abdelghani Hamel. All this has put the authorities in an embarrassing situation, prompting them to respond quickly and comply with a large number of demands.

Opposition parties in Algeria understand more than ever the predicament of the authorities, but they are handling the confrontation with the regime in a positive way. The opposition does not yet intend to resort to an open-ended battle with the government in the streets, and is instead reaching out to popular forces and trade unions quietly, signalling the possibility of deep political transformations to come.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.