Announcement Of Algerian Presidential Elections Offers An Opportunity For A Progressive Turnover Of Power


Maura Koehler

Last week, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that Algeria will be holding presidential elections on April 18, 2019. While it has not yet been announced whether Bouteflika will be running in the election, it may be time for him to step down as the leader of the country. After having a stroke in 2013 that has left him in a wheelchair, the 81 year old has not addressed his nation in more than six years, according to Al Jazeera. Bouteflika is the desired candidate of the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale), but he has been in power since 1999 and will be 87 years old by the time of the next election. Perhaps Bouteflika’s presidency should come to an end so that someone younger can take the reins who could better represent the will of the people as well as make for a smoother transition of power.

While there was talk of postponing the election to keep Bouteflika in power, an idea spawned from Abderrazak Makri, the leader of the Movement for Society for Peace, the incumbent would unlikely face any competitors in the coming election if he decides to run. Last election in 2014, he did not campaign at all and still won 81 percent of the vote, and France 24 reported that Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, who is head of the National Rally for Democracy party, would not run if Bouteflika announces his candidacy. Oddly enough, Makri was announced on January 26 as the candidate representing MSP, despite his previous proposal to postpone the election altogether. According to Al Jazeera, former chief of FLN Djamel Ould Abbes recently stated that “[Bouteflika’s] candidacy has been demanded by all the FLN cadres and activists across the country,” therefore it is very possible he will run again.

While Bouteflika has consistently won over the support of the Algerian people during elections, there are a number of reasons why he should not run again. He has been president for the past twenty years and the Algerian constitution was amended to allow him to run for office indefinitely. According to Al Jazeera, 40 percent of the country’s population is under 25 years old, therefore it would make more sense to have someone who could potentially better represent such a large portion of the 41 million people living in Algeria. Additionally, his failing health and old age could impede his leadership abilities and the reform the country needs to continue progressing. Many Algerians place their support in Bouteflika in the name of stability and peace, but an unplanned change of power due to his declining health would likely jeopardize that more than a new elected official.

Much of President Bouteflika’s original support came from his involvement in the Algerian War of Independence and many other high-ranking officials are from that same era of revolutionaries. He is also credited with ending the Algerian civil war by offering former Islamist fighters amnesty, according to Reuters. While there has been some civil unrest, particularly in 2010 led by journalists pointing out the media censorship dictated by the government, Reuters also points out that Algeria did not experience the same political upheavals that were present in many other Arab countries in the past ten years. The media censorship is certainly something that needs to be brought to the world’s attention, however, as Reporters Without Borders places Algeria at 136 out of 180 ranked countries on their 2018 world press freedom index.

With President Bouteflika reaching 87 years old by the time the next election would occur, it seems that now would be a good time for a peaceful transition of power. Having someone younger in office could better address the needs of the very young population, a high percentage of which are unemployed, according to Reuters. Additionally, with 60 percent of the budget and 94 percent of export revenues coming from oil and gas revenues, the country should start long-term planning to transition the economy to more sustainable sources of revenue in order to avoid collapse. A younger leader is much more likely to take these steps since these changes would need to happen in their lifetime. For the most part, Bouteflika has served his country well, but it is time to pass the reins onto the next generation of leaders in Algeria.