Op-Ed: There’s slightly more clarity on Algeria’s shape of transition, but not much

By Francois Conradie, Head of Research, NKC African Economics.

Details of the shape of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s departure from office and the coming transition are arriving in dribs and drabs, and the situation remains uncertain.

On Monday, April 1, the president’s office announced that he would resign by April 28 when his current term in office ends. The announcement also said that the head of state was about to implement “measures to ensure the continuity of the functioning of the institutions of state during the transition period.”

On Sunday, March 31, the presidency announced the nomination of a new cabinet with Noureddine Bedoui as prime minister.

Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah remains deputy defence minister (the president is ex officio the defence minister), but Ramtane Lamamra, a successful career diplomat, was replaced as foreign minister.

The reshuffle has done little to calm the national mood, which we expect to remain volatile until there is more clarity on the transition.

Constitutionally, if there is a vacancy in the office of the president, then the president of the Council of the Nation (the Senate) takes over as interim head of state. At the moment, Algerian media are carrying reports that the current holder of that office, Abdelkader Bensalah, is about to be replaced.

Mr Bensalah, a founding member of the National Democratic Rally (RND), has been in his current position for 17 years and has always served Mr Bouteflika faithfully; he was an early supporter of the president’s run for a fifth term which was the main grievance of the protesters who have been marching in their hundreds of thousands since mid-February.

Meanwhile, the president of the Constitutional Council, the body with which the responsibility lies to declare a vacancy of the office, is Tayeb Belaiz who is also a member of the ‘Bouteflika clan’ around the ageing president which is currently doing what it can to slow down the transition and preserve its members’ interests.

This means that it is possible for the clan to block the process.

But the change in the national mood is making it harder for members of the clan to steer Algeria through this changeable moment in a way that suits them.

They will have been distressed by the fate of Ali Haddad, formerly the head of the influential employers’ federation, the Heads of Enterprises Forum (FCE) and a billionaire thanks to lucrative public works tenders: Mr Haddad was arrested on the Tunisian border on Sunday, March 31, as he was trying to leave Algeria in violation of an order prohibiting him and some other big businessmen from leaving the territory.

The order is an attempt by bureaucrats to limit capital flight as connected businessmen move their ill-gotten fortunes offshore, but we think most of that capital has already flown.

After Mr Gaid Salah’s call for the implementation of Article 102 we had expected the process to begin very soon, but the week since has shown the Bouteflika clan’s determination to play for time.

Friday marches are expected to keep happening and some sort of national conference should be announced in due course.

If this conference looks insufficiently inclusive, or if it is too obvious that those around the president are trying to manipulate the process, Algerians will reject it.

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