Anger at Algerian president’s bid to run for third term

Anger at Algerian president’s bid to run for third term

By Heba Saleh in Cairo, Published: The Financial Times , October 31 2008

Algerian opposition parties reacted angrily yesterday to the announcement by Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the president, of unspecified constitutional changes expected to allow him to run for a third term.

Mr Bouteflika, who has long hinted he wanted to abrogate the two-term limit in the constitution, did not spell out the intended changes on Wednesday. But he said they would « allow the people to exercise their legitimate right to choose their rulers and to renew their confidence in all sovereignty ».

Algeria is a big hydrocarbons producer and an important natural gas exporter to Europe.

The Socialist Forces Front, an opposition group, described the plan as a strategy of « moral and political regression ».

Another party, the Rally for Culture and Democracy, said Mr Bouteflika wanted to become a « president for life » and that he was making « slaves of all Algerians ».

Analysts say the announcement means that Mr Bouteflika has now got the backing of the powerful army and intelligence chiefs, who wield enormous political influence and who are known in the country as les décideurs, or the decision makers.

« This deal was forged because the décideurs do not have so far an alternative candidate, » said Hmida Layachi, editor of the Algeria Today newspaper.

Mr Bouteflika was brought to office by the military in 1999 and has since managed to increase his powers at their expense. At the same time, he has maintained the trust of his army backers by ensuring that the military would never come under scrutiny for massive human rights abuses committed during the war against the Islamists.

Although the country has recently suffered a string of bomb blasts by a group affiliated to al-Qaeda, the president is credited with a return to relative peace by offering amnesties to Islamic militants who led a rebellion during the 1990s.

The constitutional changes are expected to be adopted by a vote in parliament rather than by referendum. Parties opposed to the amendment will not have enough support in parliament or on the street to overturn the decision.

Other planned changes to the constitution are expected to reduce the authority of the prime minister to make the Algerian system more overtly presidential, long the declared wish of the president in a move further reducing already meagre parliamentary scrutiny.