Bouteflika served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1960 to 1970 and later as Private Secretary to the then President Houari Boumedienne from 1970 till when he resigned after the former second Algerian President’s death because he was accused of embezzling State funds in 1979. He then left Algeria and settled abroad in The United Arab Emirates (UAE) where he influenced the end of the 90s Civil War. He then moved to Switzerland and later France from where he was called back by the military in 1999 to rule Algeria as the 7th President after General Liamine Zeroual the 6th President resigned.
Bouteflika suffered two strokes in 2013 and moved to France and later Switzerland for treatment and has been frequently moving between home and abroad for the same purpose; a health constrain that kept him off the political scene of Algeria for almost 6 years. Despite this, he was re-elected in 2014 although foreign observers said the election was peaceful but had low voter turnout, many null votes and a high rate of ballot invalidity.
After the Head of Algeria’s Election Commission Abdelwahab Derbal’s announcement that all candidatures were to be accepted only if handed by the candidates in person, Bouteflika arrived home on March 10th, 2019 from Switzerland. His numerous attempts to convince protesters majority being youths failed, saying despite his inability to move and carry out his duties, he still had the desire to rule Algeria as president. After pressure and advice from the military and other government institutions, he finally resigned on April 2nd 2019 after nearly 20 years in power; the longest-serving president of Algeria.
After Bouteflika’s resignation, Abdelkader Bensalah, Chairman of the Council of the Nation (Upper Chamber or Upper House) was appointed by Algeria’s Lawmakers as interim president for 90 days on Tuesday 8th April 2019. His appointment was probably to ensure that the elections slated for July 4th, 2019 be properly organized. It was rather disappointing to Algerians while gallivanting in the entertainment from the AFCON that a statement was made on State television on June 2nd 2019 by the Constitutional Council that it had received files of only two candidates, who were deemed invalid thus the election were postponed to an unannounced date.
Bensalah later announced to stand as presidential candidate in the heart of the 2019 AFCON but was rejected by the Election Council and Protesters two days after the announcement on April 10th, 2019.
Algeria’s participation and victory in the 2019 AFCON has only been appreciated by Algerians as a commitment to the sociocultural integration they owe Africa and not a solution to the current crisis.
Reasons for the protests are as follows:
- Bouteflika revised the Constitution in 2016 allowing the president to rule for two terms continuously replacing the 1996 constitution.
- He has been accused of diverting the country’s wealth into unnecessary expensive projects for his self-interest such as the building of the presidential house which is presently incomplete.
- His continuous zeal to hold a referendum on whether or not he should carry out constitutional reforms.
- Algerians have argued that he tactically pushed away military leaders, businessmen and intelligence personnel that showed outright dominance and resistance to his rule from influential positions to consolidate power.
- During his term of office, Bouteflika amended the Constitution twice mainly to vindicate his powers and strengthen the circle of collaborators he fraternized with.
- After the two strokes in 2013, Bouteflika moved to France and Switzerland for treatment which caused his unexplainable long absence from the political scene which angered Algerians.
- Bouteflika after pledging to amend the Constitution for the 3rd time if re-elected did not state the specific amendments. Algerians speculated an intended creation of the post of vice-president to act while he stayed in power despite his bad health an idea that wasn’t concurred to.
- The businessmen, trade unions and the military groups including his brother/adviser Said that closely collaborated with him were judged as Algeria’s de facto rulers; a practice Algerians want to put an end to.
- Lack of freedom of expression.
- According to Algerians, the AFCON victory just proved to the world of Algeria’s potentials and cannot end the crisis. They believe the crisis is far more serious as a statement like, “we will continue to march until a transitional authority led by clean politicians is set up” was made confidently on Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency by Mira Laifa an Algerian Medical Student. Protesters have loudly voiced slogans like, “Down with the System!” or “You ate the country, you bunch of thieves.”
Government officials like the Defence Ministry General Salah have also issued statements such as, “I remain entirely convinced that adopting constructive dialogue with the institutions of the state, is the only way to exit from the crisis”.
Despite all the criticisms, Bouteflika is applauded for ending emergency rule and leading the United Nations Generally for 1 year in 1974 as President.
The AFCON 2019 trophy has not stopped the crisis and may not as protests are still on-going.
Article from AFRIC editorial
Photo credit: google images/ illustration