Algeria’s Bouteflika ignores political parties in post-vote cabinet line-up

Sunday 04/06/2017
Challenges ahead. New Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune during a meeting in Algiers. (AFP)

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.