30.10.2020 Algeria

Algeria's Tebboune: regime insider in search of legitimacy

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune came to power in December in a presidential election marred by a record low turnout.  By RYAD KRAMDI (AFP/File)
LISTEN OCT 30, 2020
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune came to power in December in a presidential election marred by a record low turnout. By RYAD KRAMDI (AFP/File)

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a regime insider who took office after nearly a year of protests, is seeking to satisfy the demands of the street through a constitutional referendum on Sunday.

A senior member of the National Liberation Front (FLN) of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 74-year-old is far from being the fresh face demanded by the youth-dominated Hirak protest movement.

Tebboune, who is currently hospitalised overseas, had already held significant posts at the heart of the establishment, including a brief stint as prime minister, ahead of taking the highest office after a December 2019 election marred by a record low turnout.

The Hirak, driven by young activists in a country where half the population is under the age of 30, forced Bouteflika from office in April last year by taking to the streets on an unprecedented scale.

Even after securing Bouteflika's resignation, the weekly protests persisted, targeting a total overhaul of a political system that has been in place since Algeria's independence.

It was only in March this year, three months after Tebboune's victory, that the Hirak suspended demonstrations, due to social distancing required by the coronavirus pandemic.

Tebboune has tried to reach out to the Hirak and sought to broaden his popular appeal through his proposed constitutional reform.

But he may be absent on the day of the vote, after being transferred Wednesday from hospital in Algiers to Germany for "medical examinations", according to his office.

Days earlier, he had gone into self-isolation after reports of suspected coronavirus cases among his aides. On Thursday, the presidency said his condition was "stable and not worrying," but did not give further details.

Taking office after a poll shunned and vilified by the protest movement, he is the first Algerian president not to enjoy the prestige of having fought in the 1954-1962 war for independence from France.

Tebboune began his career in local administration before becoming a regional governor during one-party rule by the FLN in the 1980s.

In 1991 he briefly served in the cabinet of then-president Chadli Bendjedid, before temporarily leaving the political scene.

'Perfect bureaucrat'

Tebboune, who had never stood for election before last year's presidential poll, "is a caricature of the perfect bureaucrat", according to a former associate.

Sporting a thin moustache and a heavy smoker, he is not known for his charisma or public speaking skills, the former associate said.

Not long after Bouteflika took the presidency in 1999, the then head of state brought Tebboune out of early retirement by making him communications minister, later entrusting him with other portfolios.

He left office in 2002, before returning to government again a decade later and finally becoming Bouteflika's prime minister in 2017.

Tebboune was to be the shortest-serving prime minister in Algeria's history.

After launching an attack on oligarchs close to the state who were awarded huge public contracts, he was sacked just three months into his post.

Most of those he accused are now behind bars over cases of alleged graft.

During his election campaign, Tebboune used this episode to distance himself from Bouteflika's rule.

Tebboune is married and has two sons and two daughters.

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