Yesterday was election day in Algeria, and President Bouteflika of course won re-election. Unfortunately, it is almost unheard of for an Arab president to run and be defeated– one of the reasons the “Arab Spring” uprisings took place. Opponents of the regime are alleging irregularities in the election, which is of course accurate: it was anything but a level playing field. In any free society, with open multi-party political competition, a very sick 77-year-old would not be running for and winning re-election.
Bouteflika has not recovered from a stroke last year that caused him to spend months out of the country under medical care and left him unable to campaign. The Bouteflika era is ending. We will soon find out whether that stroke also left him entirely unable to govern, and how long his declining health will permit him to serve as president. News stories suggest that very soon parliament will create the post of vice president, so that a smooth succession is in place should Bouteflika have to resign or should he die in office.
But who will choose his successor? “Le Pouvoir,” the powerful group of military and intelligence officials who have run Algeria for decades. This year’s election did not move the country any closer to democracy; it did not give the citizens any role in the governing of the country. The question now is whether the political and economic protests occurring in Algeria, including widespread labor unrest, continue to mount or are contained by the government. Can the current system last, when the military refuses any serious political or economic reform? The electoral charade this week suggests that “Le Pouvoir” has decided not to give an inch. As I noted in this blog in February, Algeria is a rich country with a poor population; almost half the population is under the age of 24, youth unemployment is high, and so is poverty. This is not a formula for long-term stability.