A complex political configuration and the scars of civil war helped Algeria avoid the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. But eight years later, the country faces political turmoil as the President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika seeks a fifth term in office.

Algerians have been taking to the streets to protest against a possible fifth term for the country’s ailing President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika, who has been in power 20 years.

The country has been run by the same elite group since the successful 1954-1962 war of independence against France and Bouteflika has always been among them. 

When he ran for a fourth term in office in 2014, many Algerians were dismayed by the decision but they did not direct their anger towards Bouteflika himself, rather they expressed dissatisfaction with the political system and status quo which they saw as an obstacle to overcome the country’s succession crisis. 

Bouteflika has long been suffering from a series of health problems, including a stroke that left him confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak in 2013.

However, it did not stop him winning the 2014 election with 81.53 percent of the vote and taking office. 

Following the results the opposition appeared to accuse the president’s inner circle, especially his youngest brother Said Bouteflika, and the country’s elite of taking advantage of his health condition to grab power and manipulate politics.  

Since the end of the civil war, which resulted in independence, the country has undergone a process of normalisation and Bouteflika has slightly changed the political balances replacing the once-powerful senior intelligence and security service with civilians at the centre of Algerian politics. 

In 1989, the country gave up its one-party system but the attempt failed when the government decided to cancel the 1991 election after the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of the parliamentary vote.

Since then, elections have not been seen as free and transparent and there is still an ongoing discussion about the development of political and power relations within the country. 

Besides that, Bouteflika has not been successful in addressing socio-economic disparities and difficulties. The country still suffers from the same endemic problems.

Most of the population has experienced a decline in the quality of basic social services, including education and healthcare. Unemployment is high and most jobs are poorly paid.

These difficulties have played a crucial role in the nation’s daily socio-political culture, showing itself as a large-scale discontentment with the status quo, prompting protests and strikes across the country over several years.

Demands have been centred on social justice and eliminating nepotism, but they remained weak and sporadic until now, mainly due to the psychological impact of the civil war and the traumatic memories of the Dark Decade.

However, Algerians now have enough courage to raise their voice to oppose Bouteflika's bid to extend his 20-year rule.  

The massive protests against his candidacy have not just surprised the Algerian government but also international community as the country largely avoided the mass rallies held across the Middle East and North Africa during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. 

While protests shook neighbouring countries, Bouteflika embarked on a series of initiatives to win over the public to prevent the tide from reaching Algeria’s shores. 

He approved the establishment of 23 new political parties and increased the seats in parliament. Additionally, he raised public workers’ salaries and also state subsidies on flour, milk, cooking oil and sugar, created job opportunities for young unemployed people and built new houses to stop public discontentment.

His government also disseminated propaganda, highlighting the threats of terrorism, foreign invention and also the overall collapse of the political system with images of mass killings. 

Although the country appeared to have succeeded in controlling social unrest, it is now closer to chaos than ever before as the necessary reforms have not been introduced to resolve decades-long socio-economic difficulties. 

As people have lost faith in the ballot boxes, they have become more susceptible to being used as a tool for politicians to claim legitimacy in the country.

"Everyone has the right to support their candidate and be against any other candidate, the ballot box will decide in a peaceful and civilised way," Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said.

Source: TRT World