Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will step down before his fourth term ends on April 28, his office said yesterday, as the ailing leader capitulated to growing calls for his resignation after two decades in power.
It’s unclear if the bold move will appease the masses of protesters whose vociferous calls for Bouteflika and his cadre of loyalists to quit have now expanded to demand that Algeria’s entire power structure be overhauled.
Their massive weekly protests since Feb. 22 have challenged the political status quo in the country ruled by the 82-year-old wily political survivor, who has rarely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013. The short statement said Bouteflika would take “important steps to ensure the continuity of the functioning of state institutions” after he leaves the office he assumed in 1999.
The Algerian Constitution calls for the head of the upper house of parliament, Abdelkader Bensalah, to act as interim leader for a maximum of 90 days while an election is organized.
Algerian national television reported Sunday night that Bouteflika and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui had named a new government after weeks of the mass protests and political tensions in this gas-rich North African country. The new government must stay in place during the transition period.
The move comes after Algeria’s powerful army chief proposed launching a constitutional procedure to have Bouteflika declared unfit for office. That proposal prompted tensions between the army and the president’s inner circle.
Ending his presidency amid the protests was a stunning decision for Bouteflika. His declaration that he was running for a fifth term in a presidential election originally scheduled for April 18 initially fueled the protests. He withdrew and postponed the election in response to growing demonstrations.
The protests have been driven mostly by young Algerians, who make up a growing part of the population. Demonstrators say they think Bouteflika and his generation are out of touch with the contemporary problems of the country’s people. Many Algerian youth struggle to find jobs, and desperation has driven some to attempt to migrate to Europe on rickety boats.