The Undying Presidency

By most accounts, Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika is a ruin of a man following last year’s stroke: never speaking in public and only reanimated for occasional ‘conferences’ with foreign leaders via televised trickery and the magic of multiple camera angles. And yet, he has apparently decided to have himself elected again in April’s ballot, writes Saad Bouakba in El Khabar.

We should note that multiple theories are circulating in Algeria about the real reason for Bouteflika’s undead shamble toward a fourth term: that what is left of the president is clutching on so he can die as president; that the real powers-that-be in military intelligence haven’t been able to decide on a consensus candidate to replace Bouteflika in cooperation with the country’s civilian leadership, and are thus stuck with the laughable spectacle that we see today; or finally that Bouteflika is actually himself being shoved onto the track as the ‘mechanical hare’ who will lose gracefully to a yet-to-be-announced ‘real’ candidate. Shades of 1970s-era Kremlinology.

Forgive me any typos; I have an injured hand and my brain is in even worse shape than the one Bouteflika was using when he came up with the bright idea of running for office yet again. My dictionary doesn’t have words to describe the depth of my anger at all of this. Bouteflika and his cronies are free to embarrass themselves in private if they want, but he has no right to humiliate the entire country like this.

The truth seems to be that the disease of megalomania struck Bouteflika even more effectively than the ischemic stroke that got him last year. He has no regard for the country’s institutions, for its constitution, no regard for the Algerian people. He sees no special honor in being an elected president, and is apparently fine with being an appointed president.

He started down this road when he trampled the constitution underfoot in 2008 and began the era of multiple presidential terms. He trampled on parliament, never paying a single visit to the legislative branch during his 15 years in office, a period in which he visited plenty of foreign parliaments.

He transferred the president of chamber of deputies, Ben Saleh, to the presidency of the senate as if he were dragging a mattress from the presidential palace to another official residence. Today he has transferred the prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal from being head of the elections supervision commission to being his own campaign chief, in the meantime leaving the country without a prime minister.

boutef221Still from Algerian TV, Abdelaziz Bouteflika “meeting” with a Kuwaiti emir.

Such are the ethics of state according to Bouteflika, a man “with a mind worth that of the whole rest of the country,” in the words of Sellal and [Bouteflika ally] Benyounes. In this dog race election, why are they even bothering with the mechanical rabbits?

Prime minister-turned-campaign manager Sellal says that even if Bouteflika cannot do everything on his own anymore, his thinking is still very sharp. And that is all it takes to be president? Sellal of course only says this because he does whatever he is told. This is a man who accepted the job of running the presidential campaign of a washed up president, a job that even [former prime minister]Ahmed Ouyahia refused. How sad that Bouteflika himself has accepted such an inglorious end.

Sources in this miserable government tell us that there isn’t any rule saying the president needs to run his own campaign in person. They say that as far as campaigning with the public goes, his achievements can speak for themselves. That’s right, he doesn’t need a platform, since he is a president of the past running to be a president o f the future, on the achievements of the past. Oh lord, this is our miserable reality.

boutef321Still from Algerian TV, Abdelaziz Bouteflika “meeting” with a Kuwaiti emir.

I wish President Bouteflika would simply send an SMS message to the Algerian people stating that: “Circumstances do not permit that we hold any elections, which is why I have decided to remain president until I die.” A frank text message like that would be more honorable than this announcement via political sock puppets on his behalf that he is going to run yet again.

Now we know why Bouteflika has run down and wrecked all of the country’s institutions, from the parliament to the executive branch, the army, the political parties, and the media. He did it because he was handed the reins when the country was foundering, and does not want to let go until it is good and dead.

The people have stayed silent while the president ran the country from the hospital recovery room for an entire year. But they will not remain silent if he tries to run it from his bedroom for the next five years.

Saad Bouokba