Algeria’s Dying Dictatorship

ALGIERS – Despite his failing health, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won a fourth term last month, with 81% of the vote – or so the regime claimed. In fact, far from signaling growing political stability, the 77-year-old incumbent’s sham victory underscores just how few options Algerians have to effect change from within the system.

Under Bouteflika’s leadership, Algeria’s government has failed to address the country’s most pressing economic and social challenges. And there is no reason to expect this to change. Since suffering a stroke last year, Bouteflika has barely appeared in public, whether to campaign ahead of the vote or to acknowledge his victory after it.

As a result, the regime is finding it increasingly difficult to claim, as it has for the last 15 years, that Bouteflika’s leadership represents civilian control over the military. So it has devised a new strategy, aimed at creating a sense of transition: the constitution will be revised to designate a vice president as the president’s legitimate successor. Of course, the move’s true purpose will be to allow the army to rally around the next compliant “civilian leader.”

The regime will also propose a “national contract,” supposedly to initiate a dialogue with the opposition. But, in the wake of Bouteflika’s bogus victory, the opposition can no longer accept a sham role in the regime’s reform plans.