Algeria hasn’t heard news of its President for weeks, making the country seem leaderless. If Tebboune does not resurface by 12 December 2020, he could face the same constitutional charge that saw his predecessor removed for “impairment”.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was hospitalised in Germany nearly a month ago after testing positive for coronavirus. Today, his continued absence and the uncertainty about his health is fuelling questions about the country’s leadership.
Tebboune could face Article 102 of Algeria’s constitution, which permits a sitting President’s removal in the case of "temporary impairment (of the president), for a maximum duration of 45 days".
If Article 102 uses the day Tebboune was admitted to a hospital in Germany as a starting date, it could be applied as early as December 12, 2020.
Tebboune’s absence coupled with a lack of clear information from the state is fuelling concerns of a power vacuum, reminiscent of the Bouteflika era. In 2013, former President Abdelaziz Boutefila suffered a grievous stroke that saw him airlifted to the prestigious Grenoble hospital in Southeastern France where he spent three months.
This left many to wonder, just who exactly is running the country in his absence?
On Facebook, Algerians have taken to posting mock-up ‘missing persons’ posters, asking for any news about the whereabouts of an old gentleman last seen in mid-October.
Tebboune, 75, was admitted to a German hospital on October 28 for “in-depth medical examinations,” according to Algeria’s presidency. This came after his transfer from an Algerian medical facility, following an outbreak of Covid-19 among his aides.
His most recent tweet, however, was on October 24. He announced his voluntary self-isolation after an aide had tested positive for Covid-19, also stating “Algerian sisters and brothers, I reassure you that I am in good health, and continue my work from a distance until the end of my isolation, while praying to the Almighty to cure all the afflicted, and preserve beloved Algeria from every calamity.”
Before his transfer to Germany, Algeria’s presidency announced Tebboune’s “state of health raises no concerns.” Only a week later, it announced that he had tested positive for coronavirus. On November 8, Tebboune was allegedly “in the process of completing treatment”, with “constantly improving health”. A week later, he supposedly “finished treatment”, and was under “post-protocol medical testing.”
Since then, the Algerian presidency has maintained a deafening silence despite the nation in the grips of a new wave of coronavirus infections.
If Article 102 of Algeria’s constitution is enacted, Salah Goudjil, the 89-year old interim Senate President, would take over as acting President until elections determine a new head of state.
Tebboune’s convalescence has so far led to his absence for the passed crucial 1st November constitutional referendum that saw record low turnouts, which dramatically broadens the President’s mandate and powers.
Algeria was already in a precarious position before Tebboune’s Covid-19 infection. Installed in an election that was rejected by most of Algeria’s 44 million citizens, his government made big promises in spite of inheriting an economy suffering the brunt of low-oil prices and shrinking foreign exchange reserves.
Algeria has officially announced more than 80,000 novel coronavirus cases and more than 2,000 deaths.
As Algerians wonder where on earth their president is, it seems they are set to repeat the vacuum of power they experienced under Bouteflika. For a country that grants sweeping authority to its top executive, that’s as good as nothing getting done, for a while.
Until then, Algerians may have to make do with being governed by Tebboune’s ubiquitous portrait hanging in state buildings and shops, keeping a genial, vacant eye on the affairs of the Middle East’s and Africa’s largest country.