Algeria’s army appeared certain to secure the end of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika 20-year rule after winning over his key allies but the managed exit plan was rejected by protesters demanding the overthrow of the entire political elite.
The shift by several pillars of the establishment yesterday was a clear signal that the 82-year-old president who has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 has little to no chance of staying in power for much longer in the North African country, an oil and gas producer.
The army’s powerful chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, told officers in a speech broadcast on Tuesday that the solution to the crisis would be the departure of the president on health grounds.
Salah called on Algeria’s constitutional council to rule whether Bouteflika was fit for office. Such a ruling would have to be ratified by a two-thirds majority of members in the two houses of parliament.
In the heaviest blow to the ailing leader, the ruling FLN party said it backed the army’s bid to have the constitutional council declare him unfit for office. “We announce our support for the initiative as a start to a constitutional plan that will allow us to protect our country from dangers,” the party said in a statement.
That move came after Algeria’s biggest union and a powerful party that is part of the ruling coalition announced they would back the military’s approach. The army has been patiently waiting for the right moment to intervene. Now that the generals have emptied Bouteflika’s inner circle, they are well positioned to play their traditional role of kingmaker in any transition.
The military will face resistance from the leaders of mass demonstrations fueled by anger over alleged corruption, nepotism and economic mismanagement who said the plan still did not go far enough.
“Protests will continue… Algerians’ demands include a change of the political system,” Mustapha Bouchachi, a lawyer and activist, told Reuters. “The implementation of Article 102 (the part of the constitution that covers declaring a president unfit for office) means that the symbols of the system will oversee the transition period and organize presidential elections,” he said.
Even if both sides dig in, no Algerians want to risk returning to the dark days of the 1990s, when the army’s cancellation of elections that Islamists were poised to win triggered a civil war that killed 200,000 people.