According to the London-based newspaper, el-Qods el-Arabi, a few weeks ago an Algerian State TV team tried twice unsuccessfully to record President Bouteflika’s speech to be addressed to the nation from the Presidential Palace Office. It was in this speech that he would announce his political retirement and hence withdraw his presidential bid for a fourth term in April, 2014.
As stated by the newspaper source, the team was expressly asked to leave the Presidential Palace without any reason or explanation given by the Palace Protocol Service.
The President’s health has been declining since his minor stroke in May, 2013, and since then he has remained in a convalescent state. Hence he has not been able to totally recover his capacities which would have allowed him to speak in front of the State TV technical team. Algerians already remain marked by the disturbing image of the President during his last speech on April 15, 2011.
The onset of his failing health occurred in the middle of the on-going Arabs’ Hurricane, a deteriorating situation marked by regional unrest, power struggles and general instability. At that time the President made a speech promising a number of reforms, namely the revision of the Constitution and the opening of free media. However, his medical check-up failed to show any improvement after a minor stroke and his emergency evacuation to Paris for very intensive care last spring.
The newspaper added that a delegation of highly-placed officials met with the President and he told them that “he was not going to run for a fourth term.” A change-of-gears eventually decided a course of action, and the President asked his Prime Minister, M. Sellal, to prepare for the election campaign.
According to the London-based paper, President Bouteflika and his circle have picked Premier Sellal as their front runner just three months short of the presidential election. Apparently the revision of the Constitution is no longer a viable topic for consideration.
Naturally all this information is taken as conditional because of the President’s art-of-suspense cultivation. On the other hand, his team won’t leave power so easily, and in this game of power, the balance between the President’s circle, the DRS (much feared Intelligence Service Division), and the money lobby, is clearly open to conjecture.
As this strange political modus-vivendi is taking place in Algeria, paradoxically there also exists another parallel for political “change” either in process or imposed. Socio-politically, Algeria is no different from any other Arab country, and yet the institutional elements make the Algerian case an exception.
The recent social tensions in the southern city of Ghardia and the surfacing of the “Khalifa Gate,” a soap-opera-styled corruption case inside the regime’s sphere, forced the President’s lobbyists to capitalize on the extradition of Abdel Moumane Khalifa. This, as well as other corruption cases, have proven embarrassing to his circle.
Lately also, the State has been caught up in a storm of critical financial affairs which in any democratic system would have become a serious affaire d’état.
But the Algerian regime is capable of forging its national, political configurations with religious, ethnic and regional clan connections, adding the use of football (especially the qualification of the national team to the World Cup, 2014) as a means to hypnotize the society and marginalize the elite.
Although the major political groups speak either about the President, or some for him, they are waiting for his public announcement for a fourth term. Will he run in 2014 or not? The confusion will be cleared up next week. According to the Electoral Law of 2012, the President should call the voters 90 days before the election.
The 2014 presidential election is indeed crucial to the country. For the last four months Premier Sellal has been touring the country ostensibly campaigning for the President, or possible for himself, if the President decides not to run. Nevertheless, Premier Sellal runs on a platform based on the President’s legacy of political and security achievements, notable the restoration of civil peace and societal stability. Indeed, the President is still seen as a leader of national reconciliation who saved the country’s institutions.
As if the opposition and its politician-leaders are not able to change the status-quo! This is due to their political maturity and ruse of 15 years in power. But in this matter, the silent majority are asking, is Algeria an absent State or a clique-dominated one?
The irony remains that the ordinary people at the community level feel they are left alone, frustrated and powerless. So the Algerian exception seems to persist and can erupt brutally in civil disobedience in reaction to a codified anarchy ensured by the regime’s clique in power.
President Bouteflika is the longest-serving politician in the Arab world, and he has promised to relinquish power to the post-revolution generation. In his last public speech he told his people, “dear fellow citizens, jenanai tab (my garden has ripened).” A garden to walk in, an immensity to dream in — what more could he ask for? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.