In response to immense national protests, current Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he would no longer run for a fifth term. The president leading the “pouvoir,” the ruling elite regime in Algeria, since 1999 sparked the massive protests on February 22 of this year when he announced he would run for a fifth term despite health issues and lack of public appearances since having a stroke in 2013. The concession didn’t satisfy protestors, though. While Bouteflika would not be running for another term, he also delayed the elections set for April 18, so he will remain in power until further notice. This has prompted initially joyous protestors to take to the streets again, this time calling for the whole regime to go, and the free and fair elections guaranteed by the constitution. This move violates a number of constitutional regulations, including that the president’s term run only for five years and the need to consult parliament in order to postpone elections, which was not done in this case. In lieu of the April elections, Bouteflika and his government have announced that a national conference will be held at the end of the year to schedule new elections and draft a new constitution while he will remain in power during the transition. Yet, again, this was not enough to calm the protests, who simply want to elect a new government.
Amel Boubekeur, for Al Jazeera, explains that this is not the first time the ruling military and business elite have consented to some demands yet keep the regime in power. In responding to the demands that Bouteflika not run for a fifth term, the regime can give the impression to be catering to the will of Algerians, while simply replacing him with another member as President of their ruling government. Though Bouteflika was serving as the political figurehead, it was not necessarily him who was running the government, but other members of the pouvoir, including his brother, the head of the army, and head of security forces.
The protestors’ fear is that the ruling elite will simply replace Bouteflika with another who will serve in the same way, through the announced national conference and ensure a “peaceful transition of power,” under the same regime, just as recently the Prime Minister announced they would create a theocratic government to rule Algeria (Al Jazeera). This fear becomes even more real when noting the electoral corruption that has already taken place since the beginning of Bouteflika’s rule in 1999. All six of the opposition candidates to Bouteflika in his first election withdrew their candidacy 24 hours before the election claiming it was massively corrupt. The regime has also been good at muting opposition and had already banned several opposition figures from running against the president in the upcoming elections.
Bouteflika’s government is able to use the excuse of a national conference to give the impression of serving the people, claiming it will include demonstrators and war veterans. But if the government was really trying to serve protesting Algerians and Algerian integrity, they would remain within the restraints of the constitution, and hold elections as scheduled. The peoples’ voices will be heard through their participation in a free and fair election, in which they can choose their own leader. One protestor explained that they had wanted elections without Bouteflika, but they now get Bouteflika without elections. The Algerian government’s blatant disregard for the constitutional restraints and the demands of Algerians rejects the values of their democracy. Protestors are now organizing at local levels and in universities, with the goal of electing a government whose priorities are those of the people—cutting down corruption, high unemployment, and improving the business environment. But when will elections even take place now? And will they really be “free and fair,” allowing Algerians access to their democratic voice?