Read Time: 6 Minutes
Mass protests in Algeria ahead of presidential elections

Should he stay or should he go?

Protests in Algeria
Protests in Algeria. Photograph: Mohamed Amine Hocine

Algerians are taking to the streets, calling for a withdrawal of President Bouteflika’s candidacy and a complete reform of the regime. How will the authorities react? Three possible scenarios ahead of Algeria’s crucial presidential elections.

Scenario 1: Bouteflika stays in the race


The supporters of Bouteflika insist on keeping him in the race, despite the growing protests. If this happens, that means shutting down the political process and pre-determine the result of the election, as Bouteflika is supported by the authorities, the army, businesspeople, the state media, the security apparatus and the associations, along with all parties of the government coalition and many civil society organizations. Moreover, this scenario of Bouteflika running for another term is more likely to happen if the stakeholders mentioned above don’t get to agree on another candidate that promises to secure their interests.


What supports this hypothesis is that other candidates previously joined the race in a desperate attempt by the regime to make the elections look legit. Add to that the possibility of using force against the protesters by infiltrating the demonstrations with ‘Agents provocateurs’ who would undermine the peacefulness of the protests, and therefore make them a legitimate target for the security forces, which ultimately could lead to suppressing the movement and the retreat of the demonstrators.


However, again, the regime knows better than involving itself in such mayhem. Also, it could just sacrifice Bouteflika's fifth term to keep the power in its hands.


Scenario 2: Bouteflika withdraws


The response of the authorities to the protests seems perplexing, as Prime Minister Ahmad Ouyahia quickly started talking about the constitutional right of the Algerians to protest and demonstrate peacefully–right after threatening to suppress any protests against Bouteflika’s candidacy. Thus, people are not easily convinced anymore by the claim that stability and national reconciliation are linked to keeping the man in office. Also, it’s not any longer helpful to frighten them with the terrorism scarecrow or the cases of Libya and Syria.


Bouteflika's dwindling health is more evident than ever, and his incapability no longer a secret. Even more so, his health conditions prove that he is nothing but a puppet. Hence, the beneficiaries of his presidency need to find a replacement, to save what is left of the state’s prestige – and taking Bouteflika out of the picture could save the regime the trouble of facing the protesters. Ultimately, withdrawing his application by pretending that this is due to medical advice from Bouteflika's doctors in Geneva could save their faces.


However, in order for that scenario to take place, his replacement would have to be ready and agreed upon among all benefiting parties beforehand. Moreover, that replacement would have already been promoted through public and private media outlets that are funded through loyalist parties and other organizations.


Scenario 3: All or nothing


The protesters won’t accept anything less than aborting a fifth term, but they are also demanding a complete reform of what they call a “murderous regime.” Their slogans, like “It’s our state, and changing the regime is what we seek” or “No to the fifth term and down with the regime” show nothing but the extreme level of the people's exhaustion and anger. They are fed up with changing the façade while the same corrupt people remain in power. And they are confident by now that the president is a façade for many opportunist businesspeople, corrupt army officers, parties in parliament and the media they control.


The increasing public pressure, which witnessed lawyers, journalists, media figures and university students joining the fray, could not only lead to a cancelation of the fifth term candidacy, but even to a postponement of the elections. This kind of action then could preface a transitional term to perform complex and deep-ranging reforms starting with the constitution, which gives the president imperial authorities, to draw a line for the army and security forces, which have been interfering in appointing and sacking presidents since Algeria's independence.


Such a transitional term would need to see the dissolution of an incapable parliament that can’t even remove an incompetent president. Maybe it would also need to see the loyalist parties dissolving, which had only one job anyways: promoting the president and glorify him. Lastly, reforming the judiciary system would be important, as it let many crimes go unpunished and failed to hold corrupt personnel accountable. However, this scenario is too perfect to be true.

Mohamed Amine Hocine