A fait accompli

April 20, 2014 - 4:47:38 am

Ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has gifted himself another term.

Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has won a fourth term. And nobody is surprised, though a report said yesterday many young people in the oil-rich nation are disappointed, wondering if the next generation will ever have a chance to rule.

Results announced on Friday showed that Bouteflika, 77, won 81.53 percent of the votes in an election marred by low turnout and opposition claims of fraud. His landslide came despite him not even campaigning in person for polling day on Thursday, when he made his first public appearance since May 2012 to vote from a wheelchair.

The Arab world is going through seismic changes and the old order is being knocked out in favour of the new. There is no country where the breeze of change is not blowing. In countries like Tunisia, dictators were forced to relinquish power after mass revolts, while in other countries the rulers themselves initiated some changes to satisfy the public, even though some of these changes are not substantial. But Algeria has been an exception – the country has remained immune so far to the Arab Spring and when old leaders are under pressure to vacate their chairs for the new generation, the ailing Bouteflika is gifting himself another term in power. And there is not even an iota of opposition because the president has the entire country in his iron grip.

At the same time, it must be said to the credit of Bouteflika that some Algerians love him. His popularity comes from the fact that he helped end a devastating civil war in the 1990s, which killed tens of thousands of people. It’s the heart-wrenching memories of the civil war which had stopped Algerians from taking to the streets when some Arab countries erupted in revolution. Revolutions are not possible without spilling blood and Algerians will baulk at doing that would upset the hard-won peace.

In such a context, it’s the duty of Bouteflika to hand over power to the new generation. Bouteflika’s campaign manager had said before the vote that the president was determined to see young people play a more efficient role in the nation’s affairs. It’s not clear how the president is going to fulfill this promise, and there are no indications that he would do so. The president is too sick and weak to focus on governance and that job is likely to be done by people in his inner circle.

Algeria has a population of around 38.5 million people, three quarters of whom are younger than 35, and yet the key leaders in Africa’s largest country are in their 70s. Unemployment  among the youth is high -- 21.5 percent of under 35s are jobless. What the country needs is democracy and reforms•