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Algerians ‘sceptical’ as Bouteflika abandons bid for fifth term

Zohra Bensemra, REUTERS | People celebrate in Algiers after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he will not run for a fifth term on March 11, 2019

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s announcement on Monday that he would not seek a fifth term in office left many shocked. Yet there was also concern that his decision to postpone the presidential election may be a ploy to cling to power.

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“A partial victory”, “a forfeited victory”. Bouteflika’s declaration that he would not run for re-election, and that the country’s upcoming presidential election on April 18 will be postponed to an as of yet unknown date, has sparked mixed feelings. Some Algerians hailed it as a victory but others voiced fears that the delayed vote may be a bid for Bouteflika to prolong his presidency by extending his term.

The Algerian presidency said that a new date for the election will be set during a national convention. Until then, Bouteflika is expected to remain in power well beyond April 28, when his term is due to end. A new constitution is also expected to be submitted to the public for a referendum.

“Algerians are sceptical, they’re waiting to digest this information,” FRANCE 24’s Meriem Amellal said. “On the one hand it’s a victory, because there was a government response, and the renunciation of a fifth term was one of the movement’s demands. But these demands have evolved, and now the people are calling for an overhaul of the system.”

Yet this appears highly unlikely. Following his surprise announcement, Bouteflika unveiled a new cabinet with Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui replacing Ahmed Ouyahia as Algeria’s new prime minister. Meanwhile, former foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra was appointed the country’s new deputy prime minister.

‘A giant manipulation’

Some have dismissed the government reshuffle as a way to maintain the status quo.

“Noureddine Bedoui has been a part of the system for years. He’s became a close friend of the president’s brother, Nacer Bouteflika, while he was in government between 2014 and 2015,” Samir Yahiaoui, a member of the pro-democracy Ibtykar movement, said.

“The Bouteflika family is maneuvering for the umpteenth time. They tell us that it’s a renunciation, but it’s a prolongation… The president’s family want another year to put one of their own people in power,” he added. “It’s a giant manipulation.”

On Tuesday, Algeria’s leading newspaper, El Watan, ran a front page story entitled “Bouteflika’s last ruse”, capturing the frustration felt by so many in the country.

Ali Dilem, an editorial cartoonist known for his sharp social commentary, published a searing Twitter post on the situation. Under the headline “Bouteflika renounces a five-year fifth term”, a drawing of the 82-year-old leader says: “Instead, I’ll do a 10-year fourth term”.

‘This move is illegal’

However, questions have been raised over the constitutionality of extending Bouteflika’s presidential term.

“According to several Algerian lawyers, this move is illegal. We can’t amend the constitution without a reason,” Amellal said.

Some Algerians responded to Bouteflika’s announcement by calling for a fourth consecutive Friday of protests this week.

“No, you can’t fool the people. See you on March 15,” read a message circulating on social media Monday evening.

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