Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised to not seek a fifth term in office after being in power for 20 years. In a message that was carried by the official Algeria Press Agency (APS) news agency, it was stated that there would not be a presidential election on April 18, and that elections would happen after a national conference on reforms that would occur by the end of the year. This news follows weeks of mass protests against his planned re-election bid, which would have extended his lengthy rule. Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui has been named the new prime minister, replacing Ahmed Ouyahai. Despite some celebrations coming from protesters upon hearing this news, demonstrations continue throughout Algeria.
Among critics of Bouteflika, there is a fear that his pledge to step aside could lead to him installing a hand-picked successor, while others consider the decision to postpone elections a threat to democracy in the country. Dalia Ghanem Yazbeck, resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said “Even if this is a beautiful victory for the Algerian people and the gesture was there, I do not believe that the entire regime and its system is going to collapse.” She added “This is a regime that is composed of different strata and circles of power. You have the [ruling party] FLN apparatchik, you have the bureaucracy, political and military leadership and you have business tycoons.” Amel Boubekeur, research fellow at the Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, based in Paris, said “All eyes are on the army now. Is the army going to let new protests happen next Friday?”
The decision by President Bouteflika can be considered a positive development in the unrest occurring in Algeria, but the structures and conditions that have led up to this crisis, wherein many Algerians have lost confidence in their government and are disillusioned by issues like corruption, remain well established and entrenched. The failure of the government to address corruption and the level of corruption in general is an issue that weakens public confidence in governmental institutions.
The 82-year-old Bouteflika became president of Algeria in 1999. His health has deteriorated in recent years, after suffering a stroke in 2013, and he has not publicly spoken since 2014. The massive protests against his government began on February 22 2019, to denounce his plans to extend his rule in the upcoming elections. Promises by the president to appease demonstrators by offering a national dialogue conference, changing the constitution and holding another vote within a year of re-election where he would not participate failed to subdue public anger and discontent.
The ongoing crisis and demonstrations in Algeria suggest a complex and prolonged situation on the ground, where the ultimate outcomes are not immediately clear. The distrust that many feel towards the president and his government is not being properly addressed. Recent developments may not be quelling such feelings and will perhaps even fuel them. The issues of corruption must be taken seriously by the government and elections should be offered to the people as a true opportunity for them to select a government that they feel would better represent them.