Former Algerian general’s presidential bid defies the rules

One of more than 75 presidential aspirants, Ghediri has distinguished himself with his bold statements against the military establishment.
Sunday 27/01/2019
Former Algerian Army General Ali Ghediri. (Facebook)
First official candidate. Former Algerian Army General Ali Ghediri. (Facebook)

TUNIS - Former Algerian Army General Ali Ghediri has announced his candidacy for president, defying a ban on military personnel in politics and positioning himself as the main opposition to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s potential fifth term.

Ghediri, who turned 64 on January 19, became the first official candidate in Algeria’s April 18 elections. He had been warned not to run by key military figures, including Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah, who is allied with Bouteflika.

A law passed in 2016 bars retired military personnel, including generals, in Algeria from political activity. Violating the ban risks jail time or loss of military credentials and social benefits.

Ghediri’s campaign will test the strength of former intelligence chief Mohamed Mediene’s support network, which has sometimes clashed with Bouteflika.

Mediene, dubbed “Rab Dzayer” (“God of Algeria”) because of his far-reaching power, was fired by Bouteflika in 2015 as part of a purge of the country’s military and intelligence services. Ghediri, who headed the Defence Ministry’s human resources department, was also sacked in the purge.

Ghediri, who has a doctorate in political science, published three open letters arguing against Bouteflika’s re-election. He said Algerians need a new strong and honest leader to take command and guide the country.

Human rights activist Mokrane Ait Larbi, a leading Ghediri supporter, says the former general’s candidacy challenges the system’s prevailing code and restores “popular will as the sole source of legitimacy.”

One of more than 75 presidential aspirants, Ghediri has distinguished himself with his bold statements against the military establishment. Former Prime Minister Ali Benflis and Islamist opposition figure Abderrazak Makri have also filed to run for president.

“Shall we hide the political and social deviances that our country is experiencing without turning our back to the fundamentals of our revolution of independence that your comrades the martyrs left to you as lasting legacies?” asked Ghediri in an open letter to Gaid Salah. “If that is the case, the silence is pure treason.”

Gaid Salah is seen as the most hostile officer to Mediene and his backers. In 2013, Mediene put Gaid Salah on a list of senior officers to be retired in 2013 but Bouteflika kept him as a counterweight to Mediene and his supporters.

Gaid Salah accused Ghediri of being unqualified for the position of president and ignoring military traditions.

“These types of people seek to further their own interests and disproportionate ambitions, without having any of the necessary qualifications,” Gaid Salah said in a statement. “These people, in acting so in words and in deeds, shamelessly ignore all the traditions and values observed by all correct Algerians.”

However, some political analysts said Ghediri’s posture could win points with certain segments of the population.

“If General Ghediri was unknown to most Algerians, he now enjoys two waves of sympathy,” said political writer Ali Bahmane. “The first followed his critics of the two pillars of the regime, which are President Bouteflika and General Gaid Salah. The second stems from his candidacy despite being from the military.”

Political writer Arab Kennouche praised Ghediri for “shattering the code of silence imposed by the military.” “The former general has jolted the power structure built by Bouteflika,” Kennouche said.

Still, analysts said Ghediri would be no match for Bouteflika if the president does pursue a fifth term in office.

Bouteflika, in power since 1999, set the date for presidential elections for April 18 but has not said whether he would run.

Though widely popular, Bouteflika’s health has raised questions over his ability to serve. He rarely appears in public and there is speculation that a tight circle of advisers makes major policy decisions on his behalf.

Algeria’s leading Arabic language daily reported that the presidency had instructed the ruling National Liberation Front, which is led by Bouteflika, to convene the party’s Central Committee to endorse Bouteflika as party candidate.

Aspirants have until March 4 to register their candidacies with the constitutional court.

Political writer Mustapha Benfodil said such a nomination would require the party’s Central Committee to submit a “fake medical certificate” and possibly “spark an impeachment process.”

Former Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ghozali called the upcoming presidential elections “a farce.” “There have been no free and fair elections in Algeria except in 1992,” he said. “The military monopolises the decisions. No decision can be made without the army’s endorsement, including on the president’s re-election or replacement.”