If Algeria’s ageing rulers hope sidelining Abdelaziz Bouteflika will buy them time to regroup, they may be disappointed. Young protesters have become bolder since their demonstrations began two weeks ago. Some now want the entire old guard to step aside.
In an letter released on Monday evening, Bouteflika postponed next month’s election and said he would no longer seek a fifth term, bowing to 18 days of demonstrations that had threatened to tear the OPEC member apart.
The 82-year-old leader, who returned to Algiers on Sunday following medical treatment in Geneva, said presidential elections would be held after a national conference to agree the contours of the next political era. He also promised that a new constitution would be drafted before year-end.
“There won’t be a fifth mandate and it was never on the table as far as I am concerned,” the letter, carried by the official APS news agency, read. Bouteflika admitted that his age and frail health could allow him only to assist in “laying the foundation for a new republic.”
Celebrations erupted in the Algerian capital as the news spread, but it quickly became clear the concessions would not be enough to satisfy protesters, whose initial demands that Bouteflika drop his bid for re-election have snowballed into calls for deeper political change.
“It is a half victory for me. I’ll protest next Friday and until his regime goes,” said Hicham, 32, who only gave his first name.
No sooner had Bouteflika made his announcements, than some accused him of using the election delay to extend his term by stealth rather than resign and hand over power.
“We said no to a fifth term. He said, OK baby, we’ll stay together under the fourth,” Algerian satirical site El Manchar said on Twitter. The prospect of a fifth term for Bouteflika had triggered seismic protests in Algeria, presenting the ailing leader and the ruling National Liberation Front party with their most serious challenge since he was first elected in 1999.His initial promises to amend the constitution and serve an abridged term if re-elected had also failed to satisfy protesters frustrated with “le pouvoir,” a cabal of military officers, veterans of Algeria’s war of independence and big businessmen who have governed the energy producer for decades.
Shortly after Monday’s statement, Noureddine Bedoui, the interior minister, was appointed to lead a transitional government, with a Bouteflika ally, Ramtane Lamamra, as his deputy. Algerian television aired footage of Bouteflika holding meetings with the chief of staff and other officials, in an apparent effort to show he’s back in business.
“The regime is obviously trying to regain control of the situation by appeasing protesters without relinquishing power,” said Riccardo Fabiani, senior analyst on geopolitics for Energy Aspects. “They are banking on the protest movement to lose momentum and fizzle out.”
Some of those on the streets of Algiers on Monday night are determined to stay, arguing that a successful transition couldn’t be led by an old guard, or “remnants” of the former regime.
“I’m very disappointed. I was waiting for Bouteflika to leave with all his clan but he’s told us he wants to stay. He appointed the same faces in the government,” said Amar, 28, who only gave his first name. “I protested to change the system and see young people in power.”