Algeria’s Bouteflika ignores political parties in post-vote cabinet line-up
Tunis- Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in an attempt to maintain social stability, has appointed veteran minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune as prime minister. Tebboune, who previously served as housing minister, will have the position during the remaining 31 months of Bouteflika’s fourth term as president when political infighting over who might replace the ailing leader is expected to intensify.
In forming the new government, Bouteflika selected several ministers outside the domain of the main political parties, including the National Liberation Front (FLN) which he leads and Tebboune is a member, and the Democratic National Rally led by his Chief of Staff Ahmed Ouyahia, apparently to free the administration of any political liability stemming from the May 4 parliamentary elections.
Veteran Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra, who was viewed unfavourably in Morocco for his hard-line postures, lost his job in the political shuffle. Abdelkader Messahel, who previously served as head of the Foreign Ministry department for Maghreb and Arab affairs, was confirmed as Algeria’s chief of diplomatic affairs.
One of Algeria’s greatest challenges is housing, which analysts said is the impetus behind repeated street protests and the public’s chronic discontent. This is likely why Bouteflika chose Tebboune, 71, who previously served as interior minister and housing minister and headed Bouteflika’s AADL housing project, to replace Abdelmalek Sellal as prime minister. The AADL programme is one of the most ambitious of its kind in North Africa, which is experiencing rapid population growth and growing urbanisation problems.
About 80% of Algeria’s 40 million inhabitants live in cities along the northern coastal sliver of land, many of them in slums or in densely packed tenements rife with drugs and crime.
The government has built more than 2 million housing units since 2008 and aims to build as many more by 2019, a recent government report stated. The cost of the programme was not disclosed but is estimated to be several billion dollars.
Without significant government subsidies, most Algerians would lack access to decent housing. The housing programme amounts to a huge transfer of money to ordinary people.
Algeria’s construction programme, meanwhile, could significantly reduce joblessness and help diversify the economy from its dependency on the oil sector. This assumes that industry jobs are not outsourced to Chinese, Turkish and Egyptian firms, which often use their citizens as guest workers.
Tebboune gained prominence last year when Bouteflika selected him among a handful of top officials to be awarded the Algerian National Order of Merit, the highest civilian award in the country. Since then, Tebboune has been one of Bouteflika’s most trusted confidantes, analysts said.
“Given his curriculum vitae and his skills to manage public affairs, Tebboune is well-positioned to succeed in his task as prime minister,” said Mohamed Taibi, a sociology researcher at Algiers University.
“The absence of officials from the political parties, including the FLN and [the National Rally for Democracy] RND, in the government line-up is a slap in the face to the whole political class and an irrevocable rejection by Bouteflika of the moral aspect of the latest parliamentary elections,” said Algerian political analyst Ridha Mahmoudi.
Algeria’s elections in May were met with popular disillusionment and a record low participation. Algerian Interior Ministry data indicate the number of spoiled and blank ballots in the elections was equal to the combined vote total of both the FLN and RND, which together won 264 of the 462 available seats. Voter turnout was 35%, compared to 43% in the 2012 elections.
Trailing the FLN and RND in the election was an Islamist alliance led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s local branch, the Movement for the Society of Peace, which gained 33 seats. More than 30 opposition groups and alliances shared the rest of the seats, with main secular parties, the Socialist Forces Front and the Rally for Culture and Democracy, winning 14 and nine seats, respectively.
Tebboune said the government will not freeze social programmes, such as housing and food subsidies, reversing the policy of his predecessor who launched extensive austerity reforms to address the country’s budget problems.
“For us, Tebboune’s government is a glimmer of hope and a small but good start. If there was no change in the government there would be an eruption of social unrest,” said far-left Workers Party leader Louisa Hanoune.
Political analyst Benyahia Ali, quoting a minister familiar with the thinking of Bouteflika and his inner circle, said: “There is no economic policy that is planned and thought out by the prime minister, nor are there planned reforms. The order of the day given to the government is to sustain social stability. It must prevent a social conflagration at any cost.”
Meanwhile, political parties are engaging in lively debate in parliament over Bouteflika’s government, as long as the political order is not disturbed.
“Bouteflika wants the parliament to be noisy where the parties will have the stage for infighting and confrontations to channel part of the political contest. That would give the impression of vivid democracy,” said political writer Abed Charef.