Last week, hundreds of students from the University of Algeria took to the streets to protest President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 5th term bid. Following his announcement on February 10 to seek reelection, Algerians have become livid. They have questioned the rationality of his party, the National Liberation Front (NLFN) and its decision to field the handicapped 81-year-old in the upcoming presidential election.
The overall concern is not much about Bouteflika’s age. It is about his fitness to run the country and whether his 16-year rule has economically strengthened Algeria for him to ask for another mandate.
Bouteflika is Wheelchair-ridden and Algeria is on Autopilot
Algeria’s economy has suffered many setbacks since Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013. He is confined to a wheelchair and cannot perform many of the tiring tasks required to efficiently run the enormous Algerian economy.
He is also barely seen in the public and neither does he grant private interviews when requested. Some concerned citizens even made attempts to figure out if he still runs the country or not but none of their investigations returned positive.
Algeria’s electoral law already requires a medical certificate attesting that a candidate is fit for office before he can be allowed to run. Bouteflika is clearly not.
During this period, there were reports that Bouteflika was flown to Geneva in Switzerland for a routine medical examination. Yet, important decisions like the purge of the intelligence service, the arrest of top army generals and the implementation of anti-media policies were taken.
The controversies surrounding the legitimacy of those that called-the-shots while Bouteflika was not around, did raise eyebrows. Many find it hard not to conclude that the country has lost course, and is as such, on administrative autopilot.
This obvious leadership vacuum has made the country’s political process vulnerable to the caprices of individuals and groups with ulterior motives.
Whereas, the sad truth is that if Bouteflika contest in the presidential election, he will most likely win because of his strong grip on the country’s key legislative and judicial institutions. If this happens, the opposition will contest his emergence and there will be more protests in the streets without Bouteflika eventually leaving office.
This outcome will further destabilize the country and weaken its already crashing economy.
Power-drunkenness Made him Villian from Hero
Bouteflika’s glory days are gone. The height of his achievement is his heroic efforts in ending the Algerian Civil War in 2002. He also won applause from some citizens for ending emergency rule in February 2011 amidst the political unrest in the Arab region.
But his tough hand and lack of responsiveness to public needs have made him a villain.
It is still a surprise how he survived the 2011 Arab Spring that saw the removal of well-grounded dictators like Muammar Ghaddafi and Hosni Mubarak in Libya and Egypt respectively.
Even if this remains a mystery in Bouteflika’s mythical status among his supporters, it is time for him to go.
Where does Algeria go from Here?
Algeria’s electoral umpire should implement provisions to stop Bouteflika from running for another term.
The electoral law already requires a medical certificate attesting that a candidate is fit for office before he can be allowed to run and Bouteflika is clearly not.
This part of the electoral law must be applied and if disputed, should be enforced with a court order.
It would not be surprising if Bouteflika eventually withdraws his interest on health grounds considering the seriousness and toll his health condition is taking on him.
If he does not, Algerians must still deny him at the polls. And if his henchmen will allow a credible election, the people must give all that it takes to make sure he is evicted from office.
No man should rule a country as if it is a personal business. Algeria belongs to all Algerians.
Abdulsamod Balogun A. is a National Coordinator at Students for Liberty Gambia and Communications Officer at Social Good Lagos (recognized by the United Nations Foundation). He is a Global Youth Ambassador at Reach-Out Integrated. He tweets at @habdulsamod.