After suffering a minor stroke last week, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is resting comfortably in a Parisian hospital in Val-de-Grâce. In power since 1999, President Bouteflika has served three terms as President. Despite his ailing status, his entourage (clan and clique alike) are pushing very hard for a fourth term in 2014. Now, however, their persistence seems unlikely after Saturday’s malaise. The President’s medical condition has opened up an avenue for his opponents in the Army and their Intelligence Service (Département du renseignement de de la Sécurité), not only to window-shop, but to finally pick the future President of Africa’s largest country, an oil and gas producer and a pivotal ally to the U.S. and France in fighting extremist groups in the Maghreb and the Sahel.
These days the talk of the town among the elite is dominated by the probable future of the “energetic-president” whose health has slowed him down to the point of silence and put him on the sidelines in State affairs. Suddenly it seems Premier Sellal has appeared before the public as care-taker, undoubtedly macro-managing the gas plants attack in Ain Amenas, representing the President in Doha, in the Arab League Summit. He has been in the spot light since his nomination to the post last winter. A graduate of l’École Nationale d’Administration, an Algerian Ivy League institution, most Algerian observers agree he is seen as the next president, if he gets the blessing of the Army and the DRS, which appears to be the case. He comes from the same town as General Toufik and is one of the system’s favorite sons. A patient and fine politician, Premier Sellal has oddly managed to be the military’s last choice and also the President’s protégé.
There have been rumors to postpone the 2014 presidential election to 2016 and create a Vice-President post in the interim in the eventuality of the passing of the President. So there is the question of who will be promoted to the proposed Vice-President post. Premier Sellal is personally in charge of this proposal and is leading political consultations with the country’s elite and political party leaders. Again, last week Premier Sellal was not only acting as care-taker but also as spokesman for the Presidential Palace. This protocol action took the media and the analysts by surprise, because they were unused to this transparency from the Palace and the emergence of the Premier Office.
On the other hand, the President’s loyalists prefer to see the President finish his term and beyond and are willing to revise the Constitution as they did in 2007 to allow the President to run for a third term. At this point, constitutionally the President is safe. Only the so-called independent media and the opposition have raised the question of the vacancy of the exercise of power. The situation on the ground vehemently disapproves any mention of Article 88 of the November, 1996 Constitution. This article states that when a President is unable to exercise his political function due to serious illness and prolonged absence, the Constitutional Council meets, acknowledges his disability and recommends to Parliament to declare a state of incapacity on his part. The Article states further that both chambers of Parliament meet and vote with a two-thirds’ majority to confirm the President’s disability.
This constitutional action might be plausible when democracy is not a mechanical tool regarding election, but it is also the people’s fundamental right to choose and question their President’s ability to perform. The President’s clique would not even dare to serve the people, because their mission is to protect the “temple”. By two-thirds majority vote the Counsel President is required to ask the President to “rest” or “resign.” In the Arab world politicians resign only at the point of a gun or by death. Otherwise it would be considered “State treason” to bring up this scenario. Such individuals are cordial and grateful and prefer the President be called by the voice of Providence rather than that of Intelligence.
After all, the regime’s three “families” (Presidential Palace, Defense Ministry and the Intelligence Service) have no regard for legal action and its procedures as the nation’s conscience. According to Algerian news reports the President’s heart malaise was due to the tough arguments between those “family” members that occurred in the Presidential Palace. Nevertheless, if this is true, it is a game change within the regime’s closed circles. Up to now, the President and his clique believed they had the keys to the mysterious black box. However, the dismissal of the President’s brother cited in the media for his implication in corruption cases came under investigation led by the Intelligence Service of General Toufik and proved a turning point in the on-going Algerian drama.
How to end this tiring and worrisome drama? If the President really wants to save his legacy, he must follow the examples of General de Gaulle or President Mandela. I mention de Gaulle because of the symbol of the month of May and the love our leaders have for the Human Rights and democratic values of France. President Bouteflika could even abdicate the office to the post-independence generation — Queen Beatrix of Holland did it for her son last week. Does he still believe in a “joumloukiya” à la Moubarak, or à la Assad…? Of course not, thanks to the Arab Revolts.
One wishes him well to come back safely to his beloved country and people and tell them, “dear fellow citizens, Jennani Tab (my garden has ripened).” If he continues, he will appear like Don Corleone, not to his people, but to his clan and clique, begging them, “I want no inquiries made. I want no acts of vengeance. I want you to arrange a meeting with the heads of the (three) families.” This war stops now.