Bouteflika drops bid for fifth term after protests

Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced Monday he is dropping his bid for a fifth term in office, scrapping the upcoming elections altogether after weeks of protests against his candidacy.

“Peacefully, we have overthrown the puppet!” people sang in Algiers following the president’s decision.

Celebratory honking of car horns rang out in the city centre, as Algerians waved their national flags on streets deserted by police.

“There will not be a fifth term” and “there will be no presidential election on April 18,” Bouteflika announced in a message carried by the official APS news agency.

The veteran leader said he was responding to “a pressing demand that you have been numerous in making to me.”

READ MORE: Ruling with one foot in the grave

Demonstrations against Bouteflika’s bid for another term have brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets for each of the last three Fridays, with smaller demonstrations taking place on other days.

The president vowed “to hand over the duties and prerogatives of the president of the republic to the successor freely chosen by the Algerian people,” but gave no date for new elections.

In a broader political shake-up, interior minister Noureddine Bedoui replaced the unpopular Ahmed Ouyahia as prime minister and has been tasked with forming a new government, according to APS.

And the country’s new deputy prime minister Ramtane Lamamra in an interview with RFI radio said the next elections would be “absolutely free” and called on all Algerians in the face of this “historic responsibility” to work together “for a better future”.

– ‘No legal basis’ –

Bouteflika, whose rare public appearances since he suffered a stroke in 2013 have been in a wheelchair, returned to Algeria on Sunday after spending two weeks at a hospital in Switzerland.

Former colonial power France on Monday welcomed the president’s decision to not stand for a fifth term.

“France expresses its hope that a new dynamic that can answer the deep aspirations of the Algerian people will rapidly take hold,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

Although credited with helping foster peace after Algeria’s decade-long civil war, Bouteflika has faced criticism for alleged authoritarianism.

Fatiha Benabou, a constitutional rights expert at the University of Algiers, said there was “no legal basis to postpone the elections”.

“In the case of a political crisis, the Algerian constitution is partially ineffective,” she said.

On social media, some Algerians were calling to continue the protests as Bouteflika says he’s not seeking re-election but remains in office.

“What does that mean, when he announces that he won’t seek a fifth term but he adds a year (to his current mandate?” said Ahmed Bekhti, a 28-year-old civil servant.

Earlier Monday barristers across the country joined the strike action. They demanded the Constitutional Council reject the 82-year-old’s candidacy on grounds of his “incapacity” to carry out the role.

Bouteflika’s return from hospital in Geneva came as protest strikes Sunday shut down the capital’s public transport system and many schools across Algeria.

The president had left Algeria on February 24 for what the presidency described as “routine medical checks”.

– ‘Climate of fear’ –

Since the breakout of protests last month, Algeria’s army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, has pledged to guarantee national security and criticised those he said want to return to the “painful years” of the civil war of the 1990s.

Bouteflika became president in 1999, and he has clung on to power despite his ill health.

When the Arab Spring uprisings erupted across the Middle East and North Africa, Bouteflika’s regime smothered dissent and played on fears of a repeat of Algeria’s civil war.

His government lifted a 19-year state of emergency, granted pay rises and announced piecemeal political reforms.

But those reforms, announced in “a climate of fear”, were shelved once the situation was brought under control, a European diplomat said.

Little by little, Bouteflika returned the regime to its authoritarian ways.

He was elected for a fourth term in April 2014 with 81.5 percent of the vote, despite not campaigning.

Bouteflika has a history of medical problems and has often flown to France or Switzerland for treatment.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

External source

The case against Floyd Shivambu

The flow of money from VBS Bank would seem to suggest that the EFF’s second-in-command was an ultimate beneficiary of proceeds of a crime

Cabinet reshuffle rumours: Unlikely to happen any time soon, but…

Persistent rumours of a cabinet reshuffle may be jumping the gun, but they do reflect the political realignment taking place within the ANC

Nigeria’s anti-corruption boss arrested for corruption

Ibrahim Magu’s arrest by the secret police was a surprise — but also not surprising

Eskom refers employees suspected of contracts graft for criminal investigations

The struggling power utility has updated Parliament on investigations into contracts where more than R4-billion was lost in overpayments

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday