As the Presidential elections draw near, the 17th of April will mark the brink of a new dawn for Algeria.
While uncertainty still grips the nation with regards to whether or not the current President Bouteflika (FNL), who suffered a stroke last April, will run for a fourth term; this election comes not only at a pivotal moment in the history of Algeria but also evokes a need to remember its history.
Algeria is a nation that remained largely unaffected by the Arab Spring, as the phenomenon swept across much of North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. However, a country characterized by a dynamic political climate and a history of revolution and regime changes, Algeria has faced its own tribulations in the past.
Gaining its independence from France in 1962, Algeria remained a single-party state till well into the 80’s and socialist state till the early 1990’s, when it adopted a free market economy and announced its intentions to hold the first multi-party elections in December of 1991.
However, when after the first round of Parliamentary Elections took place, it became clear that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was going to be elected as the new government. In order to avoid this happening, the army, under the pretense of protecting the democracy, cancelled the second round of Algeria’s general elections of that January. Taking control and forcing the then president, Chadil Bendjedid, to resign, they announced the establishment of a military-backed High Council State (HCS) under leadership of the ex-independent fighter, Mohammed Boudiaf.
The elections of 1991 and their subsequent cancellation would paralyze Algeria for the coming 11 years, and to this day remain an integral part of modern day Algeria, 23 years later. As the state of emergency was declared on the 9th of February and the FIS was dissolved by a government decree of that March, the Algerian Civil War became a fight between the government and groups such as the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA). Established when the army cancelled the elections, the FIS, taking up arms against the government, was fractured as more radical members formed the GIA. The events from late Decemeber 1991 and early 1992 become a catalyst in the civil war. A civil war that, from 1991 to 2002, escalated from assassinations of government figures to the targeting of civilians; taking the lives of over a 100 expatriates and close to 200 000 Algerians; as entire villages are massacred.
Boudiaf was amongst the government officials that were assassinated during that time, as he was fatally shot while giving a televised speech in Annaba in June of ’92. The successor of Boudiaf was Ali Kafi, who, in turn became the predecessor to Liamine Zéroual. Zéroual then became chairman of the High Council of State in 1994, and the fourth president of Algeria in 1995. Becoming one of the key components in the efforts undertaken to reach a ceasefire, he remained in office until the elections of 1999. It is at the stage of these elections that the present-day president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected as the fifth president of Algeria.
President Bouteflika ushered Algeria into an era of peace, with the largest Islamist guerrilla groups laying down their arms in June of 1999 and much of the violence subsiding. But perhaps one of his greatest accomplishments is “The Charter of Peace and National Reconciliation Referendum” of 2005, created during his second term as President. The referendum, which Bouteflika had been working on since becoming Head of State, incorporated both amnesty for those who had taken part in the Algerian Civil War and compensation for the families of those who had fallen or disappeared during this time period. Passing with 97.36% of the total vote, the referendum marked the first event, in a long time, that Algerians had stood so resolute and unified… The Presidential elections proved this newly unified sentiment once more in 2009, when Bouteflika won with a landslide and entered his third term as President of Algeria.
Five years later and fifteen years since Abdelaziz Bouteflika first became President, Algerians will once more be asked to cast their vote in the elections, which will be held on the 17th of April of this year. But the nation has changed very much since the era of Bouteflika began. With efforts undertaken by his administration to not only improve the situation in the country but also with its allies and neighboring countries, Algeria is becoming a key player in the international community.
And yet the questions remain: in which direction will the elections take this nation for the next 5 years? Will the Algerian population, if given the option, choose for a president that belongs to the generation that once fought for their independence from France, or will they choose to seek leadership in the younger generations? With the deadline for entering into the presidential elections a mere two weeks away and many contenders yet to announce their intentions of running, it is speculated that many will refrain from doing so until it becomes known if President Bouteflika will run once again. Many things remain unclear but one thing is for sure: time is running out.