The People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria was set to have presidential elections on 18 April 2019, like several other countries on the continent this year. However, the election has turned the country upside down after spontaneous appeals to protest on social networks against the then president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth presidential term, after 20 years in power.
Since 16 February 2019, the first day of demonstrations in Kherrata in the Northern part of Algeria, the protests have spread across the country and turned into a nationwide movement. On 22 February human rights activists say up to 800,000 protesters were present. These protests were significant as they were the first demonstrations in the capital, Algiers since their ban in 2001.
Another major protest took place on 24 February at the call of the Mouwatana (Democracy and Citizenship) movement, which has been instrumental in the opposition against a fifth candidacy for Bouteflika and the whole political regime. On 1 March, demonstrations are said to have mobilized three million people across the country. Confirmation of Bouteflika's candidacy on the 3 March was met by hundreds of protestors who marched peacefully, denouncing a ruse and staying true to the slogan “no to a fifth mandate”.
Teachers and students took to the streets the day after Bouteflika confirmed his candidacy. Journalists also took to the streets to denounce the censorship of the state media amidst the popular uprising. This led to several journalists resigning from the state media and becoming vocal on the question of censorship, which has plagued the Algerian media for years. Lawyers also protested with judges refusing to oversee the election process against the will of the people.
Algeria’s fragmented opposition was caught completely off guard by the grassroots movement. A member of parliament of the Labour Party proposed the application of Article 98 of the Constitution through the filing of a motion of censure of the government. This call to action was not met by any echo within the opposition. Another fraction of the opposition has called for the application of Article 102 of the Constitution. The article provides that the Constitutional Council can declare the vacancy of the presidency, seized of itself, for medical reasons.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika has not been in Algeria while most of the protesting has been happening. The 82-year-old has been in Geneva receiving medical treatment at the Geneva University Hospital. He has been in and out of treatment since his stroke in 2013. Bouteflika’s bad health has been quoted as the original and main reason for the protests.
The Algerian people could longer stand having a president whose health issues were impeding is the ability to lead the country. He has not delivered a speech and performed very few public appearances in recent times.
On 11 March it was publicly announced that Abdelaziz Bouteflika was renouncing from running for a fifth term. It was explained that a national conference that would lead to a new constitution by the end of the year would be held, extending his fourth term that was due to end on 27 April. This top-down decision was rejected by the people deeming it unconstitutional. On Monday, 26 March, the army chief of staff called for the application of article 102 of the Constitution to relieve the president of his functions, for which he is no longer fit. On 3 April, President Bouteflika announced his resignation with immediate effect.
The president’s resignation was met with celebrations in the streets. The question remains whether the smiling revolution, as it has come to be called due to the exceptionally peaceful nature of the protests, will be able to weave in a new political era in Algeria and achieve the regime change sought after by the Algerian people?
Tshiamo Maseko Poisson is a South African, French qualified lawyer. She is currently running her own consulting practice, Raisibe Contacts & Consulting, which is an African-based consultancy that provides ad-hoc legal, consulting & language services to companies, businesses or individuals who are doing business in francophone Africa. She is passionate about Africa, its people and potential.