Bouteflika has ruled for some 20 years. Pressure from the street has now made him want to shorten his own term in office if he is re-elected.
Protests against Bouteflika are also taking place in the Algerian diaspora in Paris Photo: reuters
Despite ongoing massive protests, the clan of Algeria’s incumbent leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika is sticking to his candidacy for a fifth mandate in the presidential election scheduled for April 18. On Sunday evening, the newly appointed head of Bouteflika’s campaign team, Abdelghani Zâalane, had submitted the necessary documents to the Constitutional Council responsible for verifying candidacies, triggering a storm of indignation in the country.
In a letter yesterday, Bouteflika, who has been in a wheelchair since suffering a stroke in 2013, addressed the population and declared that he had "heard" the demonstrators. The 82-year-old assured that if he is re-elected in April, he will call early elections within a year and will not run again in them.
The head of Algeria’s electoral commission HIISE, Abdelwahab Derbal, had insisted that evening that presidential candidates must submit their documents in person to the Constitutional Council. Boueflika, however, has been staying in Switzerland for about a week for alleged routine examinations in a hospital in Geneva and had not returned by Monday morning.
Thus the administrative procedures for the registration of candidates finally turned into a farce. The ridicule on the street and in social networks has since known no bounds. "I’ll vote for Bouteflika if he reads this letter himself," said one user on Twitter, alluding to the aged president’s health.
Tens of thousands of students, meanwhile, had already gathered at numerous universities across the country by midday on Sunday. They then marched loudly through the streets in protest, lending weight to their demands for an end to Bouteflika’s presidency. After it became clear during the course of the day that Bouteflika’s entourage had no intention of simply giving in, students attempted to march in front of the headquarters of the Constitutional Council in the Ben Aknoun district of Algiers. However, police forces stationed around the district pushed back the demonstrators who were streaming in from all directions, sometimes politely, sometimes somewhat roughly, and used pepper spray in isolated cases.
After the students’ rallies had dispersed by early evening and even the police had disappeared from the main streets, however, everyday life returned only briefly. In the late evening, tens of thousands of people again took to the streets across the country and loudly demanded Bouteflika’s withdrawal from the candidacy. In Skikda, Constantine, Guelma, Setif, in several cities in Kabylia and in Algiers, large spontaneous protests formed against a fifth mandate. Police helicopters circled over the center of Algiers until late at night. Fears that there might be riots during the night were not confirmed.