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Mar 13, 2019 | Algeria

Protests Unabated In Algeria Despite President's Promise To Leave

By Zeenat Hansrod - RFI
REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Algerians have returned to the streets for more demonstrations despite President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's announcement that he will not run for a fifth mandate. The government also said the 18 April election would be postponed, but the people want Bouteflika and his entrourage to leave power immediately.

In a letter read on state media on Monday evening, President Bouteflika said that he never intended to remain in office for a fifth term and revealed changes at the helm of the government.

Nourredine Bedoui, 62, is now the new prime minister. A promotion from his position as information minister.

Ramtane Lamamra, a 66-year-old career diplomat, now occupies the newly created position of deputy prime minister. He was recently an adviser to the president, served in the past as ambassador and foreign affairs minister between 2013 and 2015.

Ali Benflis, former prime minister and former candidate against Bouteflika in 2014, told RFI that the reshuffle will not bring any change.

“We cannot create a new system with old figures," Benfils said. "The people of Algeria will not fall for it.

"We are living in a paradox situation where the country is on the verge of implosion but at the same time we are still hoping for major changes – like a light at the end of the tunnel.

"It's surreal, here is a president we never see and who has not addressed the population in seven years. They want us to believe that it's the president who is good and his entourage is not.”

Benflis, who has been in the opposition since 2003, believes that the new prime minister and his deputy will have no power to rule, they will just obey the president or the other forces operating in the shadows.

Mixed reactions

If the streets of Algeria were filled with crowds cheering the announcements, the same crowd also voiced their scepticism, disappointment and anger over what they regard as insufficient or no change at all within the government.

“We demand the fall of the regime and we want accountability," one protestor in Algiers told RFI late Monday. "We do not want a mini-Bouteflika. I will continue to protest until the end, until the country goes better.”

“Yes we are happy but I don't believe in what they say," said another protester. "I think it is just a theatrical work by politcians. Bouteflika left, but his clan has not. So we are not a 100 percent satisfied. It is a small victory for Algerians.”

Is it constitutional?

If the 18 April elections have been postponed, no date has been fixed for fresh ones, nor for when President Bouteflika is likely to step down.

Algeria's Al Watan daily accurately captures the situation in Tuesday's headline, “Bouteflika's latest ruse: he cancels elections and stays in power”.

Abdelaziz Rahabi, a former minister of culture, tweeted that Bouteflika's insistence to cling to power is a danger for the stability of the state and unity in the country.

According to the Algerian constitution, Bouteflika's mandate expires after 25 April.

Soufiane Djilali, an opposition presidential candidate in 2014, said that it will be unconstitutional for Bouteflika to stay in power after that date.

But he added that the president and his entourage would not leave.

“They intend to stay in power for a few more years, without elections, so that they can organise a succession that will suit them,” he told RFI.

A national conference to oversee Algeria's transition

In his letter to the people of Algeria, Bouteflika announced that a transitional government will take over when his mandate ends on 25 April. At the same time a national conference will be held to oversee the transition before the next presidential elections.

The president also promised the creation of an independent electoral commission which will organise elections, a task undertaken by the interior ministry.

Benflis says that the national conference will not deliver and that Bouteflika should leave the government immediately and make way for new faces.

The national conference – which will include representatives of the protestors – is to be chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi, a former foreign affairs minister and special envoy at the United Nations. The conference will also draft a new constitution and set the date for elections.

Ramtane Lamamra, Algeria's new deputy prime minister, told RFI that the changes brought by the government means a new era for Algeria.

“As soon as the new government is established, our priority will be to open a dialogue extended to all in order to mobilise our resources," he said.

"I am determined to work towards reunification within our ranks and to bring together the conditions that will ensure Algeria's future, in terms of democracy, development, social cohesion and fraternity.”

More scepticism

Hakim Addad, the founder of Youth Action Rally doesn't have much faith in the national conference.

“We've had many national conferences which brought nothing new or positive for Algeria,” he declared on RFI. “The regime always organises these conferences based on its own agenda. It cannot then be a national [all inclusive] conference.

“It is up to the people in the streets to peacefully decide what the next steps will be. And can we stop saying that Mr. Bouteflika stepped down, he just leased one more year to this regime,” he added.

For Omar Aït Mokhtar, the coordinator of the Algerian Citizen Movement in France, Bouteflika's recent actions confirm his status as a peacemaker: “If he is stepping down today, it is because he listened to the protests and because it is the path towards peace. He also managed to foil an internal plot by internal factions. Those sleeper agents that could only come to power through anarchy."

Meanwhile in France, where Algerian demonstrators in the streets largely outnumbered protesters from the grassroots Yellow Vests movement , the government welcomed the announcements coming from Algeria's regime.

But President Emmanuel Macron also added that the transition period should be concluded within a “reasonable time frame”.

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