Algeria Army Chief Demands Two-Decade Ruling President Step Down
Algeria is now a month in to mass “Arab Spring”-style protests, which have brought a record number of people into the streets demanding the removal of ailing 82-year old president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and now it appears the military is prepared to act against the two-decade long ruler who has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.
In a dramatic development on Tuesday, Algeria’s army chief has called for the invocation of a constitutional clause declaring the office of the presidency vacant.
General Ahmed Gaid Salah, who also serves as the country’s deputy defense minister, said in a live speech broadcast on private television station Ennahar that the protesters’ demands that he not run for a fifth term were “legitimate”.
This includes a demand that he vacate altogether, given it’s widely perceived that he’s physically unable to carry out presidential functions, and has not given a public address to the nation in over five years.
“To resolve the crisis [in the country] right now, the implementation of article 102 is necessary and is the only guarantee to maintain a peaceful political situation,” Gen. Salah said according to CNN. “These protests have continued up till now in a peaceful and civilized way … and could be exploited by parties with bad intentions inside and outside of Algeria,” the general added.
Mass protests have destabilized the country and grabbed international headlines ahead of upcoming April 18 elections. President Bouteflika has refused to relinquish power thus far, but as demonstrations consistently overtook entire city centers this month during demonstrations, especially in the capital of Algiers, he agreed to not seek a fifth term.
However it remains that:
Article 102 stipulates that in the case of the president’s inability to carry out his duties due to a serious or chronic illness, the head of the national assembly should take his place for a period of no more than 45 days.
Algerians have grown increasingly frustrated that an apparently incapacitated Bouteflika has allowed the country to be ruled by an unelected civilian-military elite.
#AlgeriaProtests: “Next Friday will be a major test for the movement”
— FRANCE 24 English (@France24_en) March 26, 2019
The protests have now apparently been given official sanction by the army, which is a huge milestone likely to push Bouteflika out of power. According to The New York Times:
There were signs that the country’s institutions were reacting with alacrity to the general’s call, unsurprising given the preponderant role the army has always played in the country’s politics. On Tuesday afternoon, Algerian television reported that the constitutional council, which as a first step would have to declare the president unfit, was already meeting in a special session.
Even Bouteflika’s own party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), has gone from mocking the initial demonstrations to reportedly giving expressions of support for their overall aims.