Algeria needs democracy

March 24, 2014 - 5:03:57 am

In all kinds of non-democracies prevalent in abundance all over the world, seventy-seven isn’t considered old age for a ruler. There are rulers who cling to their chairs for decades, to get separated from power only by death.

In that sense, the decision of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a fourth term in office shouldn’t come as a surprise. Algeria is one of the few Arab countries where the so-called Spring is yet to blow in a meaningful way. The country enjoys peace and stability and there are no signs this will be shattered soon. The credit for this should go to Bouteflika and the government he runs. Since no government can escape the scrutiny of its people and survive in isolation, the Algerian government has been able to escape the fury of its people, though demands for democracy are as strong in the country as elsewhere.

But what makes Bouteflika’s decision to seek another term strange is his bad health. The president suffered a stroke last year that opponents say has left him unfit to campaign or govern the North African oil producer for another five years. Many of his countrymen and people outside the country are expecting him to retire and hand over power to others. Even if the opponents’ words can’t be taken to be hundred percent true, there is plenty of truth in what they say. The president was living away from public eyes for a long time due to ill-health during which time the country was governed by his close associates. If the president is given another term, it will be the same team which will continue its rule, thus lending credence to the argument that it’s time for Bouteflika to step aside.

With the backing of the dominant National Liberation Front (FLN) party, loyal army factions and unions, Bouteflika is almost assured victory. He registered his candidacy earlier this month and is campaigning to request votes.  Interestingly, the president has even made grandiose promises to his people. In a letter addressed to his people yesterday, he said his poor health would not prevent him from running for a fourth term and promised constitutional reforms if he wins the April 17 election. It’s intriguing why the president needs another term to introduce democracy when he had got enough time in power to introduce all the reforms he wanted, and for the same reason, his promises are unlikely to be swallowed without doubt by his own people. Algerians’ struggle for democracy has been very bitter, and it’s the sordidness of this experience which had prevented them from taking to the streets when several parts of the Arab world witnessed revolutions that threw out their rulers.