Algerians yesterday waited for a decision by the constitutional council on whether ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is fit for office, after the top army officer called for his removal in a bid to defuse mass protests.
Algerian Deputy Minister of National Defense General Ahmed Gaid Salah, addressing officers in a speech broadcast on Tuesday, said that the solution to the biggest political crisis since the army canceled elections in 1992 would be the exit of the president on health grounds.
The position taken by the powerful army chief of staff was a clear signal that the president — who has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 — is unlikely to survive the protests that have threatened to topple the ruling elite.
The political turmoil has highlighted growing public discontent with the allegations of corruption, nepotism and economic mismanagement that have tarnished Bouteflika’s 20-year rule.
“This is a default solution following the failure of the negotiations on the departure of the President. It moves away from the democratic transition and approaches a framed succession,” said Hasni Abidi, a Swiss-based Algerian who heads a think tank.
That approach could break a deadlock — for now. Protesters are pushing for an overhaul of the establishment entrenched in power since independence from France in 1962, and the old guard hopes it can put forward a candidate approved by the army.
For years, rumors have swirled about potential successors, but no single credible candidate has emerged with the backing of the military.
The next formal step is for the constitutional council to formally rule on Bouteflika’s fitness for office. The body has not said when it might reach its decision.
A ruling that he is not fit to govern must be ratified by a two-thirds majority of the members of parliament’s lower and upper houses.
Based on Article 102 of the constitution, Algerian Council of the Nation President Abdelkader Bensalah would serve as caretaker president for at least 45 days in the nation of more than 40 million people.
The last time the army stepped in during a crisis was in 1992, when the generals canceled an election that Muslim parties were poised to win.
That move triggered a civil war that killed an estimated 200,000 people.
The military remains highly sensitive to any signs of instability and Salah has said that he will not allow the demonstrations to lead to chaos.
The stakes are high, for Algeria is a leading member of OPEC and a top gas supplier to Europe, although so far oil and gas output appears unaffected by the unrest, an International Energy Agency official said on Tuesday.
Algeria is also regarded by Western states as a partner in counterterrorism, a significant military force in North Africa and a key diplomatic player in efforts to resolve crises in neighboring Mali and Libya.
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