Algerian leader replaces PM with ally

Algerian leader replaces PM with ally

By Heba Saleh in Cairo, Financial Times, May 25 2006

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian leader, has appointed his close ally, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, as prime minister, in what is seen by some analysts as preparing for constitutional changes that will increase the president’s powers and allow him a third term in office.

Mr Belkhadem, the leader of the National Liberation Front (FLN), replaces Ahmed Ouyahya, who was appointed in May 2003. The new prime minister said he would announce a cabinet shortly.

No reasons were given for the resignation of Mr Ouyahya, who leads the National Democratic Rally, part of the governing coalition with the FLN and the moderate Islamist Movement for a Society of Peace.

But Mr Ouyahya is known to have opposed the constitutional changes that Mr Bouteflika wants.

Since the army first brought him to office in 1999, Mr Bouteflika has made no secret of his dislike for the constitution, which makes the prime minister responsible to parliament rather than the president.

More recently, it has been understood that, despite recent ill health, Mr Bouteflika would like to seek a third term when his current one expires in 2009. The constitution allows two terms only.

Mr Ouyahya, an ambitious man long reputed to be close to the powerful military intelligence service, has often been considered a potential competitor to Mr Bouteflika.

His appointment as prime minister was seen as part of a deal between the army and Mr Bouteflika under which the military agreed to give Mr Bouteflika a second term and allow him to consolidate his power.

Analysts say the agreement came with undertakings from Mr Bouteflika to protect the military from scrutiny of their human rights record during the war against Islamic militants that raged for 10 years from 1992 and cost 150,000 lives.

Last September Algeria adopted by referendum the charter on national reconciliation that paved the way for presidential decrees giving a pardon to Islamic militants who surrendered and extending a blanket amnesty to the security forces for violations committed during the war.

“With the passage of the charter, Bouteflika’s obligations under the deal have been discharged, and now there is no role for Ouyahya,” said Ihsan Al Qadi, a political analyst. “The president probably believes it is time to prepare for the constitutional change and he cannot do this with a prime minister who is not on side.”