Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Bouteflika’s cabinet facelift

The recent government reshuffle is intended to cement the Algerian president’s hold on power, writes Kamel Abdallah in Algiers

Al-Ahram Weekly

As if to confirm his renewed vigour upon his return to work after illness had incapacitated him for several months, Algerian President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika instituted a major cabinet reshuffle this week. Although he retained Prime Minister Abdel-Malek Sellal, he replaced the ministers of the interior and foreign affairs, while retaining the present minister of energy in spite of the controversy in Algeria surrounding this ministry over recent months.

Although Bouteflika kept the post of minister of defence for himself, he appointed a new vice defence minister, Algerian army Chief of Staff General Ahmed Gaid Saleh. Ramtane Lamamra, former African Union commissioner for peace and security, was appointed foreign minister to succeed Murad Madlasi, and Constitutional Council Chairman Tayeb Belaiz replaces Dahou Ould Kablia as interior minister.

Coming seven months before the presidential elections that are scheduled for April 2014, the reshuffle triggered diverse reactions among political circles in Algeria. Many observers were struck by the fact that while Bouteflika made changes at the top of key ministries like defence, the interior and foreign affairs, he left the Ministry of Energy untouched. This ministry is closely connected with the most powerful security agencies in the country.

Observers agree that the Algerian president undertook the cabinet reshuffle in order to consolidate his power, giving rise to speculation that he intends to field himself for a fourth term in office in the forthcoming presidential elections. Although Bouteflika has not yet said whether he will run, many political parties declared that they would support him even when he was still in hospital in France recovering from the stroke he suffered in April.

The changes in the Ministry of Interior are clearly a crucial part of this consolidation of power. In addition to replacing its head, the president also made significant changes in the security agencies, not least in the intelligence agency headed by General Mohamed Moudden.

According to the Al-Nahar newspaper, Bouteflika has transferred authority over the army security directorate from Moudden to army Chief of Staff General Saleh, whose powers have been enhanced by his appointment as vice-defence minister.

The Algerian newspaper also reported that Bouteflika had dissolved the police judiciary, an authority subordinate to the intelligence agency and responsible for investigating cases involving terrorism and corporate corruption, such as in the case of the national Sonatrach Oil and Gas Company.

Such actions to clip the wings of Algeria’s powerful Department of Information and Security, as the intelligence apparatus is known, are seen as signs of the president’s determination to resume full control at a time when his political adversaries and a segment of the press have begun to predict his immanent political demise.

In its reading of the recent cabinet reshuffle, the newspaper Al-Khabar remarked that Bouteflika had “locked his political adversaries in a cage where they can barely breathe. [The reshuffle] is the strongest step he has taken to pave the way for his perpetuation in power by any means, whether through a fourth term or an extension of the current term. At the very least, it is meant to ensure that he alone controls the scenario for the selection of his successor.”

Also in the opinion of this newspaper, Bouteflika, or those in his inner circle, has come to believe that “a conspiracy” was being hatched against him while he was in hospital. The opposition has declared itself innocent of any such conspiracy, even if it had formerly called for the enforcement of constitutional Article 88, in accordance with which the president may be removed from office if he is unable to perform his duties.

“However, for Bouteflika there is no such thing as innocent in the world of politics. Behind every visible move there is a hidden hand. But even if that did not exist, calls to enforce the constitution because of fears over the state of the president’s health could become the way his adversaries will try to use to weaken him as he regains his strength,” the newspaper said.

Another striking aspect of the cabinet reshuffle is that it eliminated all the ministers who hailed from the ruling National Liberation Front Party, the majority party in the Algerian parliament. These apparently had not supported the election of Ammar Saidani as the Party’s secretary-general, Saidani having been favoured by Bouteflika in his capacity as chairman of the party.

Analysts have taken this as another sign of the Algerian president’s resolve to tighten his grip on power through his close associates.

The ministers of transportation, Ammar Tou, of higher education, Rashed Harawbiya, of health, Abdel-Aziz Ziadi, of posts and communications, Moussa Bin Hamadi, and of agriculture, Rashid Bin Eissa, were all removed in the reshuffle.

However, the changes did not affect ministers who had not openly challenged the election of Saidani as National Liberation Front Party secretary-general, such as Abdel-Kader Musahel, the minister delegate in charge of African and Maghrebi affairs, who has taken over the Ministry of Communications portfolio, and Al-Tayeb Louh, formerly the minister of labour and now the minister of justice.

Also removed in the reshuffle was General Abdel-Malek Qanaiziya, who served as minister delegate under the minister of defence and who was replaced by General Saleh.

Algerian political analyst Qawi Bou Haniya said that the changes undertaken by Bouteflika had been necessitated by the ways in which the institutions of government were being managed in many sectors, precipitating widespread controversy since the president’s last meeting with the cabinet nine months ago.

The deterioration in the performance of some sectors had stirred up popular discontent, he said. “Therefore, we should not view this change in isolation from the general context of the political system and the repercussions of the activities in the major parties, such as the general-secretary elections in the National Liberation Front Party and the disgruntlement in its ranks as well as the general-secretary elections in other political parties.”

In statements to the press, National Front Party Chairman Moussa Touati said that the cabinet reshuffle carried the “fingerprints of the Élysée Palace” and was supported by foreign powers. Touati also said that if Bouteflika now planned to try to perpetuate himself in power this would be tantamount to “political suicide”.

Although the president’s health had improved, he was unable to rule and to address the concerns of the Algerian people, Touati said, adding that “I believe the new team is preparing for the post-Bouteflika era, because its interests dictate it.”

In the opinion of Justice and Development Front official and MP Lakhdar bin Khalaf, the decisions Bouteflika has recently taken fall into place as part of a roadmap towards the forthcoming presidential elections. The president was laying the groundwork for one of three possible scenarios: to extend his term via a simple constitutional amendment that would create one or two vice-presidents, to run for a fourth term, or to usher in a successor from among his inner circle who would act as president and perpetuate his policies, he said.

Bin Khalaf criticised the cabinet reshuffle as “illegal” and “without foundation in political practice and democratic theory”. Not only did it violate procedure, but it also ignored the principle of merit on the basis of competence and the positive accomplishments of the existing ministers.

“The only criterion that was applied was loyalty to the roadmap in accordance with which there is no rotation of authority but rather only the recycling of positions on the basis of loyalty,” he said.

Algerian analysts agree that the steps Bouteflika has taken, from promoting Saadani as secretary-general of the ruling party and the restructuring of the intelligence agency to the cabinet reshuffle last week, are part and parcel of plans centering on the presidential elections next spring.

These actions are intended to secure the president’s grip on sectors that are directly related to his ability to control the outcome of the elections, they added.

 

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