Bouteflika’s tricks and promises stir renewed anger in Algeria

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Protesters returned to the streets of Algeria with renewed anger on Tuesday, accusing President Bouteflika of trickery.

For a brief moment on Monday night it seemed that their key demand had been granted, and that the 82-year-old president, who is in poor health, would not after all be seeking a fifth term in office.

But it soon became clear this was not what it seemed. In renouncing his ambitions for a fifth term, Bouteflika had cancelled the presidential election due on 18 April — thus extending his current fourth term indefinitely.

The result is a constitutional tangle which is likely to further inflame the protests. Bouteflika’s presidency will become illegitimate if he doesn’t leave office when his term officially expires next month. There are a couple of ways his position might be legalised though one of them — a constitutional amendment approved in a referendum — is impractical within the time frame and the other — invoking Article 107 of the constitution — looks decidedly dodgy.

Article 107 allows the president to take unspecified “exceptional measures” if there’s “an imminent threat” to the country’s institutions, independence or territorial integrity. The problem with using this in the current situation is that the only imminent threat to Algeria’s institutions comes from the president himself in trying to extend his term by cancelling the election.

CLICK HERE for a compilation of blog posts about the developing situation in Algeria

Although it’s not uncommon for authoritarian states to cancel an election, in Algeria there are dark memories of 1992 when cancelling legislative elections (to prevent the Islamists from winning) led to an extremely bloody civil war.

Hopefully, violence will be avoided this time but it’s difficult to reconcile Bouteflika’s sleight-of-hand over the election and extension of his presidential term with the political reforms that he is promising (under pressure) to the demonstrators.

In a statement issued on Monday, he vowed in future “to ensure that all the constitutional institutions of the republic scrupulously pursue the accomplishment of their respective missions”. But in the light of his current less-than-scrupulous approach to elections and term limits, the Algerian public have every reason to be sceptical about his intentions.

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: www.al-bab.com. Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

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