Will spring come to Algeria?

The presidential elections in Algeria will be held on April 18. 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose candidacy has been an issue of debate for days, has announced his candidacy to take office for the fifth time.

By: İbrahim Tığlı

It has been claimed by some circles that Bouteflika, who has been continuing his political life far from the public eye in his wheelchair, will not run for the presidency in this election due to health issues. If Bouteflika wins the elections, he will govern Algeria for 5 more years. I don’t know if he is going to live long enough and whether his health will allow him to govern the country for five more years, but with this decision it seems that he disappointed some within his party who wanted to run for president in this election.

Bouteflika announced his candidacy to, first of all, preserve the stability in the country. After the civil war broke out in the 1990s, Bouteflika restored order and stability to the country. The most important reason for his success was that he was the joint candidate of the national party, the military, and the intelligence. In the former elections, the collaboration of these power centers, which are the pillars of the country, was sustained through Bouteflika. However, today we have a Bouteflika who is ill, old, and exhausted. There were even rumors in the French press claiming that just like his paralyzed body, Bouteflika also has mental problems. To put an end to these rumors, the footage of Bouteflika saluting the public from the presidential palace was shared with the public.

If in a country like Algeria, which has become the symbol of resistance against the French, a man who is 82 years old and cannot even take care of himself is nominated as a candidate, we shouldn’t look for someone else to blame. There is the general problem of not being able to produce leaders in the Muslim world. Egypt had to tolerate Mubarak for long years, now they have to tolerate Sisi. Things are not so different in Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. The fact that a nation that resisted against France, is approving an old, despotic person, who far from being a leader, cannot be explained with anti-Western and anti-colonial sentiments.

For now, parties and groups such as the National Liberation Front, Democratic National Rally, Algerian Popular Movement, and the National Movement of Hope are supporting Bouteflika’s candidacy. The ones which are opposing it are the Movement of Society for Peace, which comes from a traditional Islamic background, Socialist Forces Front and the main opposition party, Rally for Culture and Democracy.

Last Monday, President of the Movement of Society for Peace Abdurrezak Marki stated that Bouteflika’s candidacy is surprising and “dangerous”. Makri has a point. Bouteflika, who has been governing the country through intelligence, is known to be under the influence of especially his brother Saleh. It is highly possible that in a country where economic and political problems are rising, there will be a struggle between those who want to govern the country in the name of Bouteflika and the uncertainty that will continue for years under the administration of the government.

Algeria hasn’t faced the Islamic tradition which has been oppressed and faced injustices for years. The division among the Islamic parties which did not involve in terrorism prevented these circles from presenting an alternative policy to the FLN government. Makri’s party comes from a background of Islamic tradition, and it has a limited number of representatives in parliament. Bouteflika running for the elections was an opportunity for the Islamic tradition which had a meagre place in politics. Because this would make it easier for the Islamic groups to participate in politics; and even though they would not become the ruling party, they could have formed a strong opposition or could even become one of the ruling parties in a coalition government.

With Bouteflika’s candidacy, the progress of the Islamic tradition within politics was also prevented. In other words, the normalization of Algeria was delayed for another spring. During Bouteflika’s administration, it is true that the civil war ended, politics stabilized and the economy developed, but it wasn’t possible for democracy to firmly establish itself within the country, and the participation of the oppositional circles in politics under equal and fair terms did not happen.

Since the army seized control of power at the beginning of 1990s after the National Salvation Front’s political victory, the state still has some doubts about Islamists. The Algerian Ikhwan, even though it has never been involved in terrorism and only fought inside the political arena, couldn’t get enough support. It cannot be said that the deep state trusts Makri’s party, which now holds 33 of the 462 seats in parliament. Even though the passionate speeches of Makri increases his party’s votes it seems difficult for him to be elected for the government.

If the Bouteflika administration, more precisely the people and groups encircling the president, carry out the elections transparently and accept its outcomes, it is possible for Algeria to achieve a spring of peace. It is important in this respect that Makri’s party was founded with the name “peace”. Because before, the name of the parties bore sentiments from the second world such as “salvation, independence, liberation.” It is natural that a political party which lived through the bitter experiences of the 90s follow the example of Tunisia rather than following an elderly leader. Of course, the actual question here is whether the state power decided for normalization, which is highly unlikely for Algeria for now.

It is not enough to say, “What happened in the past in Algeria was dark times, and what happened has happened.” Just as the public paid the price for this, the rulers and soldiers who were part of this also have to pay. However, one shouldn’t rush to make them pay. That is why Abdurrezak Makri has to be careful in his speeches during the campaign, and he should emphasize the compromising attitude of his party. Parties such as An-Nahda and Islah also shouldn’t abstain from supporting Makri.

Participation of the Islamists as a single bloc in the elections could end the division which has been continuing for a long time, and a common energy can be created.

Maybe the biggest surprise of this election is the candidacy of General Ali Gadiri. Gadiri was one of the most prominent persons of the time and he had great influence over the soldiers. Moreover, he was known as the general who interferes in politics. Now, by differentiating himself from Bouteflika on certain lines, he is criticizing the government harsher than the Islamists and the former communists.

Even though it seems difficult that spring will come to Algeria with the elections that will be held on April 18, it will at least help to warm up the atmosphere in the country which has been windy for a long time. At least the Algerian people will be able to see that there are others rather Bouteflika who could govern their country in the political arena.

This column published in Yenisafak Turkish newspaper