Algeria faces prospect of president seeking fifth term

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2018
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Algeria faces prospect of president seeking fifth term

  • Half of Algeria’s 40-million population is now under the age of 30 and few young people remember the expectant days of their president’s first term
  • Algerians may have some wait ahead before he announces his candidacy

ALGIERS: With no clear successor to longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algerians may well see their frail leader who rarely appears in public cling on for a fifth term in office.
When Bouteflika came to power in 1999, he won the backing of his conflict-weary citizens who credited him with bringing about reconciliation after a fierce civil war.
Nearly two decades on and with a presidential election scheduled for next year, the 81-year-old leader shows little sign of leaving office despite his ailing health.
“As long as God keeps him alive, Bouteflika will definitely seek a fifth term,” said Mohamed Hennad, political science professor at the University of Algiers.
There has been constant speculation about the health of the president — and even rumors of his death — who suffered a stroke in 2013 that saw him spend three months in a French hospital.
But Bouteflika surprised observers to win a fourth term in 2014, casting his vote from a wheelchair, and he is widely expected to appear on the 2019 ticket.
“All the external signs tend to show a very small group of very powerful people at the head of the Algerian state, in favor of the re-election of the current president,” said Pierre Vermeren, contemporary history professor at the Pantheon Sorbonne University in Paris.

One possible successor, national police chief Abdelghani Hamel, was last month ejected from the president’s inner circle.
The sacking of Hamel was intended to curb the official’s ambitions, according to a diplomat based in the capital Algiers.
“It’s the housekeeping before the election,” the foreign envoy said.
The move is similar to reshuffles within the powerful intelligence services just months ahead of the 2014 election, in which Bouteflika clinched 81.5 percent of the vote despite being absent from the campaign trail.
Politicians have already been preparing for a fifth term under Bouteflika, with the secretary general of his National Liberation Front (FLN) in April asking him to run.
Last month, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said his Rally for National Democracy (RND) party would support the president “continuing his mission and his sacrifice in the service of Algeria.”
One fierce critic of Bouteflika’s decision to stay in power, New Generation (Jil Jadid) party president Soufiane Djilali, accused the presidential camp of trying to “neutralize other potential candidates.”
There is “no doubt that President Bouteflika wants to finish his days in power,” he said.
Possible opponents such as religious groups or political parties have been “totally marginalized,” according to historian Vermeren who said there is “no counter-power to the state leadership.”

Algerians may have some wait ahead before he announces his candidacy, which the president did just two months before the last poll.
Although those wary of a political overhaul, after a fourth term marred by social and economic hardships, may decide to steer clear of the polls entirely.
The last presidential election saw a 50-percent abstention rate and it could reach a record high in 2019, with Algerians suffering from falling oil prices and youth unemployment at 30 percent.
Half of Algeria’s 40-million population is now under the age of 30 and few young people remember the expectant days of their president’s first term.
Nonetheless, from the University of Algiers, Hennad regard Bouteflika stepping aside voluntarily as an “improbable hypothesis.”
There is only one alternative, the academic said: “If he is declared unfit before the vote; unthinkable at the moment.”


Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.