TUNIS - Prominent Algerian figures have urged President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to drop his bid to be re-elected for a fifth mandate, saying it would be painful for him and “tragic” for the country if he were to stay in power beyond next year.
Yasmina Khadra, author of the novel “La Derniere Nuit du Rais” (“The Last Night of the President”), former Prime Minister Ahmed Benbitour, two party chiefs and ten leading university and civil society figures were among those who called for Bouteflika to step down after his term.
In the letter dated May 26, they focused on concerns over Bouteflika’s health and the country’s future rather than the president’s record. The open letter to Bouteflika went viral on social media and many Algerians expressed support for its call.
Those who back the president for another 5-year term plan to rally behind his record as a statesman who ended a civil war built a strong military and freed Algeria of foreign debt, analysts said.
Bouteflika, 81, has suffered two strokes since 2013 and his ill health has forced him to limit public appearances. At one point, some of Bouteflika’s close friends wrote an open letter seeking a face-to-face meeting with the president to ensure that he was not the victim of a palace coup.
Such worries subsided after Bouteflika made several appearances in the past month.
While Bouteflika has yet to announce whether he will stand for re-election, his supporters have sought to make it a political certainty.
“I will deliver the request for a fifth term to Bouteflika’s interior minister so he can hand it to him,” Abdelmadjid Sidi Said, general secretary of the General Union of Algerian Workers, told a gathering of more than 2,000 workers.
Al-Sadeq Qataya, a leading figure in the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), said: A majority of the party’s central committee members have submitted requests asking the president to continue leading Algeria.”
FLN General Secretary Djamel Ould Abbes has repeated over the past three months that the old governing party’s members want Bouteflika to continue the mission he started in 1999 as head of state.
Ould Abbes, however, insisted that it is up to the president to announce whether he will stand for re-election.
The recent letter to Bouteflika said: “We have resorted to this letter-writing style… because of the self-evident fact that your health condition does not permit you to receive Algerian citizens anymore.”
“Because we are not bound to be reserved about our opinion, we will likely reveal the reality that many people are forced to hide (if we were allowed to meet you),” they added. “However, this letter contains neither an offence nor a critical record of your policy.
“When immoral forces get excited to lead you on the path of a fifth mandate, we want respectfully but frankly to tell you about the tragic mistake if you reject once again the voice of wisdom that calls out every soul at an hour of fateful choices. At such hour as you know making a choice is giving up,” the letter stated.
The letter appeared to tap into young Algerians’ frustration with the country’s ageing leaders, who are widely viewed as out of touch.
“It is sad that there are people who think that Bouteflika is able to seek another mandate,” a young Algerian, who said he is a government employee, posted on social media. “Are you living high in the sky or in the midst of the clouds to think that? Really! He does not satisfy the fair conditions to be president because he does not even speak.”
Another criticised those who support Bouteflika’s re-election: “The president is sick. They are making the country and its people a laughing-stock in the eyes of other nations,” said the post. “Your regime built upon rent is making our life misery.”
Another said Algerians must speak out against a fifth mandate. “Everyone knows that the president will not receive such letter. We shall come together as a people and call for him to not renew his mandate,” the post stated.
Signatories of the letter said: “Your age and your bad health condition oblige you to have no role in the demanding tasks of managing the state affairs. Without doubt, another mandate will be a real ordeal for you and for the country.
“It is therefore with a clear conscience that we as signatories of this letter appeal for you to embrace the sole and unique decision that will open a new era for the country where the common good will prevail above the interests of men: you renounce to a fifth mandate.”
Lamine Ghanmi is a veteran Reuters journalist. He has covered North Africa for decades and is based in Tunis.
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