Algerian party, top union join army in seeking Bouteflika exit

In this April 28, 2014 file photo, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika sits in a wheelchair after taking oath as President, in Algiers. (AP)
Updated 27 March 2019

Algerian party, top union join army in seeking Bouteflika exit

  • Army chief wants Bouteflika out on health grounds
  • Protesters reject managed exit, army involvement

ALGIERS: Algeria's army appeared certain to secure the end of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika 20-year rule after winning over his key allies but the managed exit plan was rejected by protesters demanding the overthrow of the entire political elite.
The shift by several pillars of the establishment on Wednesday was a clear signal that the 82-year-old president - who has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 - has little to no chance of staying in power for much longer in the North African country, an oil and gas producer.
The army's powerful chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, told officers in a speech broadcast on Tuesday that the solution to the crisis would be the departure of the president on health grounds.
Salah called on Algeria's constitutional council to rule whether Bouteflika was fit for office. Such a ruling would have to be ratified by a two-thirds majority of members in the two houses of parliament.
In the heaviest blow to the ailing leader, the ruling FLN party said it backed the army's bid to have the constitutional council declare him unfit for office.
"We announce our support for the initiative as a start to a constitutional plan that will allow us to protect our country from dangers," the party said in a statement.
That move came after Algeria's biggest union and a powerful party that is part of the ruling coalition announced they would back the military's approach.
The army has been patiently waiting for the right moment to intervene. Now that the generals have emptied Bouteflika's inner circle, they are well positioned to play their traditional role of kingmaker in any transition.
The military will face resistance from the leaders of mass demonstrations fuelled by anger over alleged corruption, nepotism and economic mismanagement who said the plan still did not go far enough.
"Protests will continue... Algerians' demands include a change of the political system," Mustapha Bouchachi, a lawyer and activist, told Reuters.
"The implementation of Article 102 (the part of the constitution that covers declaring a president unfit for office) means that the symbols of the system will oversee the transition period and organise presidential elections," he said.
Even if both sides dig in, no Algerians want to risk returning to the dark days of the 1990s, when the army's cancellation of elections that Islamists were poised to win triggered a civil war that killed 200,000 people.
Back then, Islamists had marched in the streets chanting "no laws, no constitution but Allah" under the watchful eye of the military. No women had taken part and the men were bearded, in sharp contrast to the protests which erupted five weeks ago.
These demonstrations have been peaceful, with people singing, laughing and taking selfies as they wave banners calling for peaceful political change. Some even bring lunch to the demonstrations. The military has stayed in its barracks.
The army chief has warned he will not tolerate chaos, but he also praised Algerians for pursuing "noble aims".
Protesters have repeatedly said they would reject any orchestrated succession in politics and want a transition which will lead to a government by consensus, but there are no signs they will resort to violence to reach their goals.
"We want a real democracy, not a facade of a democracy," said postal worker Zakaria Jaziri 26.
State bank employee Djamel Hadidi, 37, said: "We welcome the army's initiative but we do not want Bouteflika's men to govern us until the next election."

HIGH STAKES
Under Article 102 of the constitution, the chairman of parliament's upper house, Abdelkader Bensalah, would serve as caretaker president for at least 45 days after Bouteflika's departure.
Even if Bouteflika quits, there is no obvious replacement who could be acceptable to all.
For years, rumours have swirled about potential successors, but no single credible candidate has emerged with the backing of the political and security establishment who is not at least 70.
Facing the biggest challenge to his rule, Bouteflika reversed a plan to seek a fifth term, postponed elections and promised to introduce greater freedoms.
But he stopped short of stepping down, infuriating Algerians who want to do away with veterans of the 1954-1962 war of independence against France, military officers and business tycoons who have dominated for decades.
"Is there a risk of radicalisation or confrontation if demonstrators reject the army approach? This is a hypothesis that cannot be totally excluded," said Louisa Dris, professor of political science at Algiers University.
Western powers will want to see a smooth succession.
Algeria is a member of OPEC and top gas supplier to Europe, though so far oil and gas output appears unaffected by the unrest, an International Energy Agency official said on Tuesday.
Algeria is seen by Western states as a counter-terrorism partner, a military force in North Africa and a diplomatic player in efforts to resolve crises in Mali and Libya


Iraqi grand ayatollah: I support the people, and they want change

As strikes resume in Iraq, anti-government protesters stand on a concrete wall set up by security forces in Al-Rashid district in Baghdad on Sunday. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2019

Iraqi grand ayatollah: I support the people, and they want change

  • Iran’s blatant interference in Iraqi affairs and its involvement in crackdown on protesters angers Ali Sistani

BAGHDAD: A senior adviser to Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani has told Arab News that he does not support the continuation of the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and that the existing political forces did not press for early parliamentary elections with a new election law and an electoral commission. Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces have endured mass demonstrations against the government since Oct. 1.

More than 300 demonstrators have been killed and 15,000 others have been injured, mostly in Baghdad, due to bloody crackdowns led by Abdul Mahdi’s government and his Iranian-backed allies.
Al-Sistani is the leader of the world’s Shiite community and the most influential cleric in Iraq and has been the godfather of the political process since 2003. No government or prime minister can survive without Al-Sistani’s support and blessing.
Protesters, initially protesting against corruption, unemployment and lack of daily basic services, were brutally repressed in the first week of October by Abdul Mahdi’s government and his Iran-backed allies, killing more than 147 demonstrators and wounding more than 6,000 others with live ammunition and tear gas canisters, which stopped demonstrations for two weeks.
But demonstrations resumed on Oct. 25 after Al-Sistani announced his support and the Iraqi government vowed not to use live ammunition.
The return of the protests was accompanied by increasing demands to overthrow Abdul Mahdi’s government and the holding of early national parliamentary elections preceded by the change of the election law and the electoral commission.
Abdul Mahdi and his allies from the political forces announced their agreement to meet the demands of the demonstrators except the dismissal or resignation of Abdul Mahdi or early elections.

PM’s survival
The prime minister’s allies insist on his survival, accompanied by a significant increase in killings, kidnappings and arrests of activists and journalists, with the promotion of news that they have an agreement with Al-Sistani that allows the continuation of Abdul Mahdi’s government, new ministerial and constitutional amendments and a set of important laws, without holding early elections.
Al-Sistani’s office denied that they had concluded such an agreement or that they had anything to do with it.
“The real conviction is the conviction of the people. We have no guardianship over the people, but we support it because the constitution says they are the source of powers,” Sistani’s top aid told Arab News.
“We support peaceful demonstration because it is the right of the citizen … If it remains peaceful, it will affect the state’s convictions.
“We have no confidence that those (political forces) will be able to solve the problem. We see that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution and unless there is a real change within the constitutional items, the problem will remain the same.”

FASTFACTS

• Abdul Mahdi and his allies from the political forces announced their agreement to meet the demands of the demonstrators except the dismissal or resignation of the government, or early elections. 

• Ali Sistani’s top aid tells Arab News that the grand ayatollah does not suppport the continuation of the present government in Iraq.

Iraq ranks high on the list of the most corrupt countries. The system of political, sectarian and ethnic quotas adopted by Iraqi politicians since 2004, which includes the three presidencies and ministries and advanced positions in all state institutions, contributed to the spread of financial and administrative corruption and provided the required protection for corrupt politicians.
“There have been no real treatments for corruption over the past years. Corruption is rampant ... because of the weakness of the judiciary and the regulatory authorities, some of which have sought to use corruption cases to blackmail and enrich themselves.
“Officials are getting rich at the expense of the people. Corruption whales became powerful, while the qualified people have left Iraq and the graduates do not find jobs.
“We have no hope in the existing political forces and the chances of continuation of this government are very small. “They should all leave. This political class must leave.”
Al-Sistani has recently intervened in major events, as happened when the Iraqi Army collapsed and Daesh overran one-third of Iraqi territories in the western and northern parts of the country in the summer of 2014 and advanced toward Baghdad, when he issued an edict (fatwa) demanding that people take up arms and volunteer to support Iraqi forces in their fight against Daesh. Sistani’s intervention this time appeared gradually and through Friday sermons.

Strongest sermon
The last Friday sermon was the strongest to date, as Al-Sistani’s told his followers: “If those who have power (now), think they can evade real reform, with procrastination, they are delusional. The aftermath of these protests will not be the same as before. They should be careful.”
This was understood by most politicians and observers as a yellow ultimatum, which could soon be followed by a warning of expulsion or paralysis of civilian life.
“We do not interfere with particles. We have constitutional mechanisms that we do not want to get out of, but when we found that these mechanisms were tailored to the size of the existing political forces, we demanded a new electoral law that would ensure a genuine representation of the people and a new electoral commission that people trust will safeguard their choices,” Al-Sistani’s aid said.
“We will not allow things to descend into chaos. This is not an option. Our biggest concern is that the law will weaken further, which means slipping into infighting.”
Iran’s blatant interference in Iraqi affairs, reflected by the statements of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who was publicly demanding an end to the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon, and the involvement of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, in the crackdown on protesters, has angered Al-Sistani. This was evident in his three previous speeches.
“We have a real problem: Iraq is negatively affected by the (regional) environment. We will not allow Iraq to be a battleground for any regional or international party ... we will not allow anyone to interfere in the affairs of Iraq, whether it is a friend or an enemy, because all interventions are aimed at serving special ambitions,” Al-Sistani’s aid said.
“He will not leave the people. If the people’s demand is for early elections, then we support early elections, and if they want to change the (political) system, we support it … and if they say that they do not want this government, we support it.
“Our position is clear and unambiguous. We are with the people in what they want ... and Al-Sistani has not used its strongest weapons yet.”