Algeria’s President Bouteflika is here to stay

Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Despite poor health, Algerian President Bouteflika has announced his candidacy for next year’s presidential election, potentially his third term in office. Economic conditions and regional stability are thus unlikely to improve in the short term.

In September 2013, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika made his first major political manoeuvre since his bout of ill health earlier this year in an unexpected and drastic cabinet reshuffle.

The 73-year-old President suffered from a stroke in April and spent the subsequent three months recovering in a Parisian hospital. Back in Algeria, the leaderless state continued to experience economic decline, high unemployment, labour market issues and accusations of political corruption. Despite remaining relatively quiet for a short period after his return in July, Bouteflika has since caused a big splash after replacing a third of the Cabinet Ministers, appointing eleven new Ministers and changing the portfolio of eight.

As well as the sweeping changes made to the Cabinet, the Algerian military intelligence agency, DRS, has also been restructured. Considered to be the command epicentre in Algeria, DRS is also known as Le Pouvoir, as it is said to be the ‘real power’ behind the state. The changes made within the DRS suggest that Bouteflika is attempting to tighten his control of the state and gain further authority within Le Pouvoir before upcoming elections in April 2014.

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mourad Medelci, was appointed as President of the Constitutional Council replacing Tayeb Belaïz, while Belaïz was named Minister of Interior and Local Government. Two weeks before the surprise announcement, Ammar Saidani, a close ally to Bouteflika, was made the new Secretary General of the ruling party, National Liberation Front (FLN).

The most significant alteration was the appointment of General Ahmed Gaid Salah as Deputy Defence Minister, who still kept his position of Army Commander. This addition to his portfolio means that the three pillars of the DRS, the Army Communications Bureau, the Central Security Agency and the Judicial Police Force, are now all under Salah’s control. Salah, a confidante of the President, replaced General Mohamed “Toufik” Mediène, who despite a relatively low profile held the position since 1990. In recent years, Mediène carried out a number of corruption investigations, exposing the E-W highway project and the ‘Sonatrach scandal’ in January 2010. Mediène supported the incumbent reluctantly and his recent probes into corruption, which can be linked directly to the President, add weight to the idea that Mediène’s unexpected dismissal was driven by Bouteflika’s personal motives.

The incumbent has ruled for fourteen years. Despite the legal maximum of two presidential terms lasting five years each, Bouteflika is currently serving his third term. This was made possible by a constitutional amendment made in the run up to elections in 2008. Rumours of the President performing a similar feat next year quickly spread throughout the country and intensified following the surprise cabinet reorganisation.

Recent decisions made by Bouteflika indicate that he is re-establishing himself as the premier of power in Algeria following his extended absence from the country earlier this year. He achieves this by encircling himself with his closest allies, rewarding his supporters and removing any opposition, including those who doubted his return following the stroke. Given the pattern of previous elections, where the President has been accused of fraud, rigging votes and intimidating voters, it seemed inevitable that history will repeat itself for a fourth time. Sure enough, in mid-November, Bouteflika announced that he has been nominated as a candidate for next year’s presidential elections.

Notwithstanding his age and bad health, the Algerian President seems as resolute as ever to maintain his post and continue to augment his power. September’s reshuffle illustrates his determination to silence his critics and firmly stamp his authority over the Algerian state. Within an atmosphere of uncertainty, increasing economic dissent and regional instability, the risk to investors and businesses in Algeria continues to grow whilst the likelihood of economic restructuring remains a distant possibility.

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Categories: Middle East/North Africa, Politics

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