After three weeks of peaceful mass protests, the President of Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika finally announced last Monday 11 March that he will not run for the presidential elections scheduled to be held on 18 April. Many people went back to the streets to celebrate his withdrawal. The views expressed during three intense weeks of unprecedented demonstrations in Algeria have apparently been heard by the regime. Is it the beginning of a real change, or only a subterfuge to save time and keep power in the same hands?
Protests against Mr Buteflika‘s plans to stand for a fifth presidential term started on Friday 20 February, when an anonymous call on social networks brought together demonstrators for the first time in 20 years to march in the main cities. For the following three weeks, hundreds of thousands of Algerians, many of them students and also women, notably on 8 March, demanded the resignation of the octogenarian. Despite the fact that the demonstrations respected the fragile motto of “sylmiya”, peacefully, during those three weeks the regime confirmed Mr Buteflika’s 5th candidacy and disseminated worrying messages such as "Us or the Chaos", "Buteflika or the retrograde Islamists" or "stability or Syria-like violence ".
In a message addressed on 11 March to the nation and disseminated by the Algerian Press Agency, along with the announcement of the withdrawal of his candidacy, Mr Bouteflika announced that there would be no fifth term and that a fifth term was actually never intended, and expressed his commitment to contribute to build the foundations of a new republic. Mr Bouteflika explained his intention to conduct the transition to a “new Republic, the Algeria of tomorrow in the hands of new generations”, and announced a National Conference that will be in charge of piloting the transition and creating an electoral committee to call elections before the end of the year.
By committing "to hand over the powers and prerogatives of the President of the Republic to the successor that the Algerian people will have freely chosen" without any timeline, Mr Buteflika seems to indicate that he will continue to be head of State beyond the end of his mandate on 28 April 2019. The response of the Algerian people to this attempt to prolong Mr Buteflika’s mandate indefinitely will become clear in the next few days.
Before the demonstrations started, SOLIDAR’s partners in Algeria, the independent Trade union associations SNAPAP (Syndicat National Autonome des Travailleurs de la Fonction Publique) and CGATA (Confederation Générale Autonome des travailleurs en Algérie) addressed a letter to the President warning about the worrying socio-economic situation of the country. They joined the demonstrations and wrote to Algerian workers on 26 February: “Algeria, our Algeria, not the regime's, is at a crossroads. The Algerian people are waking up because they reject the provocation of a fifth mandate and have decided to fight in a peaceful but determined way to break up with the current regime ", “The CGATA calls all workers at the national level, to join the people during the marches, because this is about our country and our future, we must voice loudly our refusal to accept a fifth mandate and demand firmly the cessation of an unjust regime”. SOLIDAR monitors the situation in Algeria closely. The withdrawal of Mr Bouteflika's candidacy is undoubtedly a very satisfying victory that shows the power of the people. Developments over the next few days will indicate to what extent the regime is willing to unlock the political and democratic spaces. The moment of euphoria following Mr Bouteflika’s withdrawal is fading quickly, and another call for a large demonstration on Friday 15 March is circulating in social networks. SOLIDAR supports the legitimate demands of the Algerian people and calls for a peaceful and real transition towards democracy in Algeria.