An Overview of Algeria’s 2019 Presidential Election

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Algeria’s political scene has witnessed significant developments as the 2019 presidential election approaches, the latter is described as a major turning point in Algeria’s history.  This article sheds light on these developments that accompanied the large popular protests in Algeria. It aims to understand the positions of the regime, the opposition and the military institution on the popular demands that made the domestic political situation complicated and attracted the attention of international powers.

The Beginning of Events: Ending the Presidency Debate on Postponement and Leaving the Mystery of the Bouteflika’s Candidacy

The last developments in Algerian politics began after the Algerian presidency announced on Friday 18 January 2019 that the presidential elections will take place on April 18, the normal constitutional date scheduled for presidential elections every five years. In one of the statements, it is said that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika signed a presidential decree; convening the electorate for the Presidential Elections; in accordance with article 136 of the organic law concerning the electoral system. The same decree denotes that the exceptional review of electoral lists takes place between 23 January and 6 February 2019.[1]  With this declaration, the Algerian presidency casts doubt on the certainty of the presidential election, after weeks of sharp debate and questions about proposals given by some political parties to postpone the elections and the extension of President Bouteflika’s term. The latter gave rise to doubts that the elections could not be held on time. The controversy has intensified, bringing together dissenting parties on the same idea. At a time when the Mouvement de la Société pour la Paix HAMS; which is affiliated with the opposition; proposed the postponement of the elections, the party of Rassemblement de l’Espoir de l’Algérie TAJ called for a national conference to achieve a national consensus.[2] An initiative that is ; as has been  said; earlier than the presidential election, giving the  impression that within the regime there exist hidden powers manifesting their efforts strongly  to push the postponement of the elections forward.

In the last two days before the official announcement, new details about the proposed postponement of the elections became clearer. An internal report in Mouvement de la Société pour la Paix HAMS shed light on the reasons behind the meetings held by President of the Movement Abdul Razzaq Mikri with Saïd Bouteflika, the brother of President and his special adviser. The document which the Algerian newspaper Al- Khabar has published some of its parts reveals the fact that Abdul Razzaq Mikri discussed the draft of the elections’ postponement with the presidency through several meetings, during which the initial agreement on the document includes the postponement with a set of reform conditions. The most important ones were as follow: the entry of authorities into a serious dialogue with the main elements of the opposition, the agreement on the elements of reforms, the schedule of postponement to hold a national conference marking what had been agreed upon without change and then going to a partial amendment of the Constitution by the two chambers of Parliament, the authorization of a one year postponement, and the formation of  a national unity government that oversees economic and political reforms. In the text of the document; however, Mikri reiterates the failure of the draft postponement after the presidency withdrew from its adoption at the last moment. In his last meeting, the Presidency informed him that the task of postponement had become impossible because of the inability to achieve compatibility that allows partial amendment of the Constitution. In his words, it was plain clear that there was an intention to return to the option of running President Bouteflika for a fifth term, adding that the presidency informed him that President Bouteflika would ensure in his program the draft of the deep reforms agreed upon and invited him to join the government and hence he rejected this proposal.[3]

Apart from the idea of postponing the presidential elections and its purpose, these details delve deeper to reflect a kind of serious confusion in the Institution of the Presidency in itself. The latter that was putting the scenario of the elections’ postponement seriously in its accounts because of the deteriorating health conditions of President Bouteflika, that stood in turn as a barrier between him and his fifth term. Nonetheless, the prospect of the president’s candidacy; which seems at once weak; turned to be the strongest scenario, especially, after the fall of the extension and postponement assumptions existing on the table.

The Presidential Coalition Officially Nominates President Bouteflika and the Latter Responds Positively

In the midst of the above-mentioned political developments, the parties of the presidential alliance declared in early February 2019 in Algiers the candidacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for the presidential elections scheduled for April 18. The four parties of the alliance which are: Le Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN), Le Rassemblement National Démocratique (RND) , Rassemblement de l’Espoir de l’Algérie (TAJ) and Mouvement Populaire Algérien (MPA) confirmed in a joint statement at the headquarters of the FLN that they will nominate Abdelaziz Bouteflika as a candidate for the upcoming presidential elections in recognition of the payment and wisdom of his choices. After expressing their gratitude for the achievements made by Bouteflika, the coalition parties revealed that the decision to nominate President Bouteflika came after confirming the allegation Committed to the objectives of the presidential alliance aiming to support President Bouteflika and accompanying his program to continue the march of reform and development.”[4]

A week later and in response to the request of the parties to the presidential alliance, the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his candidacy for the presidential elections. He stated: “I devoted all my energy over the past years to quell the fire of strife, to reunite the nation and to start rebuilding the country,” in a letter addressed to the nation announcing his candidacy for a fifth term. “I no longer have the same physical strength I had, and I have never concealed this from our people, but my will to serve the nation is well established,” he pointed out with a clear reference to his current serious health conditions, the matter that raised both the opposition’s doubts and questions concerning the president’s eligibility to carry out his constitutional duties. Bouteflika pledged that if he wins the elections “starting this year”, he will organize a comprehensive national seminar aiming to prepare a “political, economic and social platform” to achieve consensus on reforms and ensure the possibility of “enriching the constitution”.[5]

Mass Protests against  the Fifth Term of President

A few days after the presidential alliance announced its intention to nominate Abdelaziz Bouteflika for the presidential elections of 2019, popular voices began to rise from within expressing their rejection and condemnation of the fifth term which is seen by many Algerians as a symbol of the persistence of corruption in the country and efforts by a failed regime to maintain the status quo. The criticism initially started in the edges of social networking sites and soon spread to the streets. On Friday, February 22, 2019 thousands of demonstrators came out demanding not to nominate Bouteflika for a fifth term.[6] The demonstrators raised several slogans in various cities and states; most notably the slogan of “No to the fifth term”,  “Silmia Silmia” in reference to the peaceful mold in which those demonstrators presented their political demands, and “People need change”. These demonstrations were characterized by an extreme peaceful nature despite the large number of participants. By Sunday, February 24, new demonstrations took place in Algiers as well as other cities called by some opposition parties. The demonstrations were successively renewed on Tuesday, 26 February, and attended by thousands of university students who clearly expressed their rejection of the fifth term. By Friday, the first of March; all Algerian cities witnessed massive demonstrations  attended by tens of thousands from different layers of the Algerian population in addition to the participation of well-known figures such as: the icon of the Algerian revolution Djamila Bouhired, the former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, the former minister Ali Bennouari, the businessman Issad Rebrab, the Front of the Justice and Development Party president Abdallah Jaballah,  Labor Party President Louisa Hanoun, Abdul Razzaq Mikri  president of HAMS and other famous political figures . During the protests, the demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans for the sake of overthrowing the existing regime.[7]

President Bouteflika Submits his Candidacy to the Constitutional Council and Promises Deep Reforms

Despite the large demonstrations against the fifth term, Bouteflika went further and decided to file his candidacy. After submitting his candidacy to the Constitutional Council on March 03, Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised to organize early presidential elections if he won a fifth term and to hold a national conference to determine the date of the (new) elections in addition to approving constitutional reforms. The director of his campaign Abdul Ghani Zaalan Filed instead of Bouteflika who was in Switzerland for a routine medical checks as the presidency announced , noting that there is no legal text, as claimed by the loyalists, imposes that the candidate should file his candidacy by himself/ herself, though the Constitutional Council posted on its website that “the file is filed by the candidate” based on a date set for him.

The Algerian president vowed, in case of his reelection, that he would not end his term and withdraw from power after early presidential elections were set to determine their date after a national conference. He also pledged to prepare a new Constitution to be submitted to the referendum for the birth of a “new republic” and to work on the formulation of “urgent policies for the equitable redistribution of national wealth and the elimination of all social marginalization and exclusion as well as effective national mobilization against all forms of corruption.” “ If the Algerian people give me their confidence once again in taking up historical responsibility and meeting their basic demand for regime change,” the president declared in his message, “I pledge to God and the Algerian people to call immediately after the presidential elections on 18 April to organize a comprehensive national conference and adopt political, economic and social reforms that will lay the foundations of the new order.” Furthermore, he  pledged to review the electoral law, giving much more focus and attention to the establishment of an independent mechanism that will organize the elections stating that he “ will not leave any political or economic power to divert the fate and wealth of the country from its course for a specific category or hidden groups” .[8]

The position of the Opposition on Demonstrations and Elections

In its largest meeting since the beginning of the popular movement, the Algerian opposition held a meeting on March 7, in which representatives of 15 political parties have participated with 35 national figures and 4 trade union representatives. The Algerian opposition forces warned; during its meeting; from the consequences of holding the presidential elections scheduled for next April, considering that it “represents a danger under the current circumstances,” in an implicit invitation to postpone it. The opposition forces issued a statement on their political project at the end of their meeting in Algiers, condemning “the disregard of the authority to the demands of the Algerian people,” referring to the protests that landed themselves against an additional fifth candidacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. At the same time, these forces confirmed their strong rejection of “any foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs,” condemning all forms of restrictions on the media.[9]

“The holding of the upcoming elections in the current circumstances and in accordance with the current legal framework represents a threat to the stability of the country and the unity of the nation,” as has been denoted by the former Algerian prime minister, Ali Benflis, adding that it is important to create a suitable climate and a legal framework He continued: “We must ensure that Algeria as far as possible to go in the way that the darkness of political domination and give the word to the people, which can save Algeria from concerns and calamities.” The leader of the Labor party Louisa Hanoune called for canceling the elections stimulating simultaneously the Algerian army to stand up for neutrality and secure the country. Opposition parties agreed to reject Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth term and boycott the elections. The audience expressed optimism because the consensus among them began to appear in supporting the popular protests, refusing the fifth term and boycotting the elections; they agreed that the intransigence of the Authority will endanger the stability and security of the country.

International Positions on Algeria’s Demonstrations

  1. France

The French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux has commented on the protests of Algeria against the candidacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fifth term.  At a press conference held in Paris, Benjamin Griveaux greeted the “calm and restraint” Algerian demonstrators. Responding to a question about Algeria, he points out that there were three basic principles in the Paris Policy towards that country: “Only the Algerian people choose their leaders and their future, this requires that the electoral process should be conducted freely and transparently. “, “Algeria is a friend of France and our ties are historically diverse, so what is happening in Algeria affects France,” and “Algeria is a key country in Africa and in the Mediterranean region, so the stability, development and security of this country are very important points.” [10] In the same vein and as a first official statement, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian commented last week almost the same way as Benjamin Griveaux previously did about Algerians protests saying that: “We are closely following the anti-government protests in Algeria, but it is up to the Algerians to determine their future,”, “We have to let the electoral process move forward and France is following the matter with interest, given the historical ties between us.”  Le Drian pointed out that Algeria is a sovereign country and It is up to the Algerian people to decide on whom it chooses as its leaders and up to the Algerian people to decide on its own future. It is up to the Algerians to define their ambitions through a transparent free process. [11]

  1. The European Union

The European Union called the Algerian authorities to respect the right of citizens to peacefully demonstrate in the country where protests continue against the candidacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fifth term.”With regard to the demonstrations, freedom of expression and assembly are included in the Algerian Constitution and we expect that these rights will be respected,” spokeswoman MajaKocijančič declared in a news conference last Tuesday. “The importance of the EU-Algeria partnership is important,” she clearly highlights, adding that Brussels is committed to continuing and deepening our relations to create a common space of stability, democracy and prosperity.[12]

  1. The United States of America

The US State Department called the Algerian authorities to respect the right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully. ” We’re monitoring these protests that are happening in Algeria and we’re going to continue to do that,” deputy State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told journalists in a news conference last Tuesday. He added: “The United States supports the Algerian people and their right to peaceful demonstration.” This was the first official US comment on the protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth term. Yet, The US State Department did not, in a way or another, mention or hint the motives of the demonstrators in Algeria or Bouteflika’s candidacy.[13]

Jumaat al-Karama: Millions of Demonstrators in the Street to Confirm the Rejection of president’s compromise and the Fifth Term

For the third Friday in a row, Millions of demonstrators gathered in the center of the Algerian capital and many other cities holding slogans against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fifth term. The protests coincided with the revival of International Women’s Day March 08, and women of all ages participated strongly in the protest, whose participants shouted against the fifth term and called for the departure of the regime. The protests came despite the warning of President Bouteflika in a message to the nation on the occasion of International Women’s Day, the dangers of “sedition” and “chaos.” In his letter, he called for caution to break this peaceful expression by any insider or foreign group that may lead to sedition and chaos. However, the protesters appear to be sticking to their demands despite those warnings from the authorities.[14]

The Position of the Military Institution

In the first week of popular demonstrations against Bouteflika’s candidacy, Ahmed Gaïd Salah; Algeria’s deputy defense and chief of staff of the National People’s Army; made his first statement as well as the military institution’s position on the demonstrations. He warned of what he called “suspicious calls” and announced in a speech to military leaders in the sixth military region: “Is it possible that some Algerians are pushed into the unknown through suspicious calls, which seem to mourn democracy, and inwardly drag those who are seduced into unsafe routes.” He added that this course “does not necessarily serve the supreme interest of Algeria, nor to achieve its prosperous future,” pointing out that the National People’s Army – according to its constitutional functions – considers that anyone who calls for violence in any way and under any justification or circumstance is a person unaware or ignoring the desire of the Algerian people to live in security and safety. This statement has been read by the opposition as an interference in political affairs as this kind of speech is adopted also by the political regime.

However, in a remarkable development in his speech on 11 March 2019, Ahmed Gaïd Salah said that the army and the people share the same vision for the future, adding that this people has proved at all times that they are people of positions who knew and will know how to preserve their country. He also mentioned that there is a strong and vibrant association that draws the Algerian people to his army. He also referred to the characteristics that unite the people and its army, which are the elements of friendship, respect, sympathy and solidarity and all elements of the same future outlook for Algeria of tomorrow. This speech was read by many analysts as a complete bias for the will of the people. It is a conciliatory word that reflects the beginning of an important shift in the army’s view of protests. In fact, the Algerian army has found itself facing a historic choice. The strategic interests of the country require the army to stand by the will of  people in order to reach a compensating solution especially that the Algerian army is indeed regarded as a historical source of the country’s strength, and therefore it must play a facilitating role in any political transition.[15]

Calls for Civil Disobedience and the Judges Show Solidarity with Protestors

The same week, opposition forces called for a general strike and civil disobedience from Sunday, March 10, hours before the Constitutional Council announces the official candidates. The shops in the country witnessed an unprecedented rush for the purchase of basic materials, in the light of continued calls for civil disobedience forcing the Constitutional Council to reject the file of Bouteflika’s candidacy. Local sources pointed out that the Algerians chose to resort to the option of “civil disobedience,” after the authorities ignored their demands, highlighting that this solution is now in the hands of the Constitutional Council, which will determine the eligibility of candidates for the presidency. In the wake of these calls and in the Algerian capital, there was almost complete paralysis of the movement of transport and communication. This disobedience went further to reach the educational institutions in addition to a complete closure of many public and private departments, institutions and public bodies.

As another significant development in the Algerian political scene, on 11 March 2019, the Judges’ Club published a statement including the rejection of Bouteflika’s fifth term, the renunciation of the supervision of the elections and the support of the popular movement in the country. It is a painful blow received by the regime from one of the most important segments of society. The judges oversaw the electoral law on the 1541 municipal committees and the 48 electoral districts. The Independent Electoral Observation Body (a constitutional body) has 205 judges out of a total of 410 members. For its part, the Algerian government warned judges of “breaching the duty of reservation and declaring political positions” after the judges announced for the first time in the history of Algeria a position against the authority and refused to supervise the presidential elections if  President Abdelaziz Bouteflika run for a fifth term, while six parliamentary blocs announced boycotting the activities of parliament starting from the same day.

Algeria’s President Yields to Protests: Bouteflika Resigns to Run for a Fifth Term and Postpone Presidential Elections

After mass protests against the fifth term, Bouteflika announced11  March, 2019 the postponement of the presidential election originally scheduled for April 18 and his renouncement to seek a fifth term, whose rejection was massively expressed by the people through unprecedented historic protests.

In his message made publicly at the end of Monday, the president also announced the opening “without undue delay” of the process of reforms. These decisions followed the strong popular mobilization and Bouteflika almost implicitly acknowledges having yielded to the sustained pressure of the street.

“Algeria is living through a sensitive stage of its History. On March 8, for the third consecutive Friday, major popular marches took place across the country. I have followed these developments, and as I already announced on March 3rd, I do understand the motivations of the numerous compatriots who choose this way of expression of which I once again hail the peaceful nature.” The president said!. He added “here will be no fifth term and there has never been any question for me, since my health condition and my age assign me as an ultimate duty, to the Algerian people; the contribution to the foundations of a new Republic as part of the new Algerian system that we all strive for. This new Republic and this new system will be in the hands of the new generations of Algerians, men and women, who will naturally be the main actors and beneficiaries of public life and sustainable development in the Algeria of tomorrow. ”

Bouteflika proposed an accelerated version of the proposed process without success a week ago. On 3 March, he unsuccessfully tried to calm down the demonstrators by announcing the organization of early presidential elections if he was re-elected and the opening of a vast reform project. The street unanimously rejected these proposals and five days later, on the 8th, millions of citizens demonstrated in Algiers and in all the cities of the country. This Sunday, March 10, the day after his return to the country after two weeks of hospitalization in Switzerland, Bouteflika gave away and clearly announced  that he will not seek a fifth term.[16]

At the same time, a new Prime Minister has been appointed. Nouredeine Bedoui replaces Ahmed Ouyahia, in what looks like another concession made to the street. Also the post of Deputy Prime Minister is created by decree and will be occupied by Ramtane Lamamra, who will also be in charge of Foreign Affairs.[17] This government, led by men close to the presidency, will be responsible for managing the announced transition.

These are the main announcements made by the Presidency of the Republic. But there are still many gray areas in the presidential text. At the end of the message, it is clearly stated that President will remain until the election of his successor, “Finally, if God grant me life and assistance, I undertake to hand over the offices and prerogatives of President of the Republic to the successor that the Algerian people will have freely elected.” This means he will remain in office beyond April 18, without specifying on what legal basis the decision was made since the constitution does not provide for the extension of mandate. This would resemble the proposal made last December by some parties of the Presidential Alliance; the postponement of the election and the extension of the current term of President. In short, the regime yields on the 5th mandate but keeps the hand on the management of the transition. The idea was rejected unanimously by the opposition. In such case, many questions land themselves admirably into the discussion: How will the opposition deal with it? And above all, what will the street think of it?

References

[1] “Election présidentielle : Le président Bouteflika convoque le corps électoral pour le 18 avril,” http://www.elmoudjahid.com/fr/actualites/132748 [accessed 25.02.2019].

[2] Farid Alilat, “Algérie : un report de l’élection présidentielle est-il envisageable ?” https://www.jeuneafrique.com/684831/ [accessed 25.02.2019].

[3] J. Fninech, “Ceux-ci ont échoué l’accord pour reporter l’élection présidentielle,” https://www.elkhabar.com/press/article/149214/ [accessed 25.02.2019].

[4] “Présidentielles : La Coalition au pouvoir présente Bouteflika,” https://www.echoroukonline.com/presidentielles-la-coalition-au-pouvoir-presente-bouteflika/ [accessed 25.02.2019].

[5] “Algérie : Abdelaziz Bouteflika officiellement candidat à un 5e mandat,” https://www.jeuneafrique.com/732894/ [accessed 25.02.2019].

[6] “Algerians protest against Bouteflika’s bid for fifth term, ” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-47339414 [accessed 26.02.2019].

[7] Adam Nossiter, “Algeria Protests Grow Against President Bouteflika, Ailing and Out of Sight,” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/01/world/africa/algeria-protests-bouteflika.html [accessed 28.02.2019].

[8] “Présidentielle : le dossier de candidature de M. Bouteflika déposé au Conseil constitutionnel,” http://www.aps.dz/algerie/86373 [accessed 04.03.2019].

[9] “Rencontre de l’opposition: adoption de solutions algériennes et rejet de toute ingérence étrangère,” http://en.aps.dz/algerie/86593 [accessed 08.03.2019].

[10] “Algérie: Benjamin Griveaux souligne “la dignité et la retenue” des manifestants,” https://www.bfmtv.com/international/algerie-benjamin-griveaux-souligne-la-dignite-et-la-retenue-des-manifestants-1649907.html [accessed 08.03.2019].

[11] Fawzia Azzouz, “France: Le Drian plaide pour la liberté du processus électoral en Algérie,” https://www.aa.com.tr/fr/monde/france-le-drian-plaide-pour-la-libert%C3%A9-du-processus-%C3%A9lectoral-en-alg%C3%A9rie-/1410968 [accessed 08.03.2019].

[12] “Washington & EU Support Algerian People’s Right to Protest,” http://northafricapost.com/28650-washington-eu-support-algerian-peoples-right-to-protest.html [accessed 08.03.2019].

[13] Robert Palladino Deputy Spokesperson, “Department Press Briefing, Washington, DC, March 5,” 2019, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2019/03/290013.htm [accessed 08.03.2019].

[14] “Troisième vendredi de manifestations contre le 5e mandat, ” https://www.tsa-algerie.com/direct-troisieme-vendredi-de-manifestations-contre-le-5e-mandat/ [accessed 09.03.2019].

[15] “L’ANP et le peuple partagent les fondements d’une vision unique du futur de l’Algérie,” http://www.aps.dz/algerie/86678 [accessed 10.03.2019].

[16] “Le président Bouteflika adresse un message à la nation annonçant le report de l’élection présidentielle, http://www.aps.dz/algerie/86748 [accessed 11.03.2019].

[17] APS, http://www.aps.dz/algerie/86775 [accessed 11.03.2019].

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1989 yılında Cezayir’de doğdu. 2008’de girdiği Annaba Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi’nin yanı sıra Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi, Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden 2011’de aynı anda mezun oldu. 2012’de aynı üniversite bünyesinde Akdeniz Çalışmaları Anabilim dalında yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamış ve 2012 yılında “Akdeniz’de Türk-Fransız Rekabeti 2002-2012” konulu yüksek lisans tezini başarıyla sunmuştur. Eylül 2016’de İstanbul Medeniyet Üniversitesi’nde ikinci yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. Tez çalışmasını Prof. Dr. Ahmet KAVAS’ın danışmanlığında, “2002 Sonrası Türkiye-Cezayir İlişkileri” konusu üzerine sürdürmektedir. Anadili Arapça olup çok iyi seviyede Fransızca ve İngilizce, orta seviyede Türkçe bilmektedir. AFAM üyesidir.

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