President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's fifth bid for the presidency will further entrench the status quo. Is the strategy sustainable for the country's economy?
Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been absent from the public eye since 2013 when he suffered a stroke that left him wheelchair-bound and limited his ability to speak.
This has not kept him from winning presidential elections in the oil and gas-rich North African nation even without running an electoral campaign.
After purging the country’s top military and intelligence leadership multiple times, he is set to run for a fifth term in the April 2019 elections.
A looming economic struggle is on the horizon, however, according to a report by the International Crisis Group, published on November 19, which warns of “socioeconomic shock” and “unsustainability”, calls for reform, and makes several allusions to the role of youth in decision-making and the Arab spring of 2011.
The timing of the report coincides with the National Liberation Front’s (FLN) announcement that Bouteflika would be its candidate in the upcoming elections.
The International Crisis Group describes itself as an “independent, non-profit NGO”, but it has ties to the Open Society Foundation and Henry Luce Foundation.
The Open Society Foundation is owned and funded by multi-billionaire and controversial figure George Soros, who has been accused on multiple occasions of peddling agendas that interfere with the internal politics of several countries.
The Henry Luce Foundation, openly promotes religion-focused journalism, while funding evangelical theological research and analysis of religious conflict and supporting conservative political values. As of June 30, 2018, it held $38,600,000 in assets.
The Last of the Old Guard
Bouteflika is the last remnant of the FLN’s revolutionary old guard, having stood by Algeria’s first President Houari Boumediene during independence. He effectively represents the last vestige of their legitimacy.
The FLN has been in power since independence, after undergoing the transformation from a revolutionary army into a political party. Its campaigns have always relied heavily on its legacy of ensuring Algerian independence while maintaining deep ties with its military successor, the Algerian National Army.
Bouteflika is no stranger to strong comebacks either. In 1981, he was sued for having stolen Algerian embassy money between 1965 and 1979.
Convicted in 1983, he was found guilty of taking $500,000 throughout his career. He would later receive amnesty from fellow party members.
In 2008, Bouteflika passed a constitutional amendment removing the two-term limit on the presidency, allowing him to run for a third and fourth term.
In his most recent term, he restored the constitution to its original state, returning the two-term limit, which will allow him to run for one more term.
The FLN’s announcement of his presidential bid, promising continued stability, has received support from a broad swathe of Algeria’s political parties and unions.
However, another five years under the rule of a rarely-seen president surrounded by a mysterious circle of decision-makers is not a preferable scenario for many in the North African state.
Bouteflika’s effectiveness as a ruler has been called into question by Group 19, a collection of well-known figures who publicly demanded an audience with the president, to which no response was received.
Group 19 is made up of national heroes, senior politicians and public figures.
Louisa Hanoune, former minister and a member of group 19, has directly accused a shadowy group of oligarchs and ministers of manipulating the president, stating that no one meets Bouteflika aside from his brother and a chosen few.
They also criticised the political paralysis Algeria will continue to face if Bouteflika remains president, particularly given the nation’s dependence on oil and gas, and its inability to provide employment for millions of jobless youth.
Bouteflika’s nomination despite poor health suggests that the FLN has been unable to find a successor, analysts and opponents say.