The drum rolls did not sound; the disappearing act of democracy happened nonetheless. A vast majority of Algeria’s parliamentarians approved a ratification to the constitution that will bolster the powers of the septuagenarian current president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, over the cabinet and grant him an opportunity to seek a third term in the upcoming April election. Bouteflika has declined to state whether he will run for a third term. His recent approval of a substantial salary increase to lawmakers
helped align the parliament with the government and the military junta controlling it and secure the nearly unanimous vote needed to pass the bill. The fact that the vote was conducted by raised hands instead of the customary secret ballot stoked the rumor that members of parliament who voted against the new law feared retribution. The decision to have the bill voted for in the parliament stemmed from the government’s increased wariness a widespread popular opposition, clamoring for new leadership, would snuff the proposed bill out. The government’s actions emphasize the lack of a true national consensus.
The withering opposition, such as RCD, whose head, Said Sadi, qualified this latest reform as a “constitutional coup,” is already cautioning that the upcoming presidential elections will be beset by fraud, corruption and systematic abuses. In a country characterized by a notoriously impervious bureaucracy that lacks accountability, such claims are not mere allegations. When he became president in 1999, Bouteflika benefited from tremendous support from army generals who coerced his political rivals to withdraw from the race on the eve of election day. Up until 9/11, the Algerian government rode on the back of an unbridled military dictatorship that oppressed decency, pluralism, and openness. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were a gift from heaven for the Algerian military generals. They labeled all opposition “terrorism,” blamed the country’s woes on it, and saw their undemocratic methods not only vindicated, but supported by western countries such as France and the US. The military’s heavy handed modus operandi combined with bouteflika’s policy of reconciliation which guaranteed an amnesty to known terrorists stabilized Algeria’s political platform just in time for the 2004 election which Bouteflika won by a landslide. Some observers attributed his re-election to a frustrated and demoralized Algerian population craving peace at whatever price, be it a military dictatorship.
The upcoming presidential election is set to be a repeat of the 1999 one. The expectation of a reformed and democratic government will be buried for yet another five years. There is no political presidential candidate in Algeria now that shows the extreme and troubling deference to the military generals’ agenda like Bouteflika does. It is for this reason that he will, undoubtedly, be re-elected for a third term.
Democracy did not disappear in Algeria. It was never there to begin with.
A. T. B. Copyright © 2008