Prominent Algerian senator resigns, says Bouteflika held ‘hostage’

Former Army General Rachid Benyelles added his voice to Ighilahriz’s, saying in an open letter that a new mandate for Bouteflika makes “absolutely no sense.”
Sunday 28/10/2018
Another term in office? People walk near portraits of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers.(AP)
Another term in office? People walk near portraits of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers.(AP)

TUNIS - Algerian writer and independence war veteran Louisette Ighilahriz resigned from parliament to protest the prospect of a fifth term for Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika who, she said, was being controlled by people around him.

“I’m not convinced by the fifth mandate and that is why I’m against it. It is not the president who talks about it. There is a group of people who talk on his behalf,” said Ighilahriz, 82, an Algerian independence fighter who was appointed to the Council of the Nation (the upper house of the Algerian parliament) in 2016.

“I cannot defend such a lie of the fifth mandate unless the president breaks his silence and tells us ‘vote for me,’” she added.

Ighilahriz’s remarks go against stances of leading government figures, such as Council of the Nation leader Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, who have called on Bouteflika to seek another 5-year mandate.

Leading political parties, such as the National Liberation Front, the National Rally for Democracy and the Rally for Hope for Algeria, which together control a majority in the lower house of parliament, are also in favour of Bouteflika extending his tenure.

Bouteflika, 81, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 and is thought to be in ill health. He has yet to announce whether he will run for a fifth term next April.

Prominent Algerian academics, writers and politicians wrote an open letter last May urging Bouteflika not to run, saying his frail health would prevent him from effectively leading. Ighilahriz echoed those sentiments, saying she was “convinced that president meets with no one except his doctors.”

“I do not know who is taking him hostage. He is sick and I wish him a speedy recovery but he is behind closed doors,” said Ighilahriz in a statement announcing her resignation.

Bouteflika, who, like Ighilahriz, fought in Algeria’s war of independence, appointed her to the council in 2016. Algeria’s upper house of parliament includes 97 elected members and 47 appointed by the president.

Ighilahriz enjoys wide respect in Algeria, where she is considered a symbol of resistance to French colonial rule. While accompanying a commando of fighters in the decisive Battle of Algiers in 1957, she was wounded in a firefight with French soldiers and captured.

In captivity, Ighilahriz endured months of torture and abuse before she was released just before Algeria’s independence in 1962. She gained prominence after her harrowing story was told in French media in 2000.

Former Army General Rachid Benyelles added his voice to Ighilahriz’s, saying in an open letter made public a few days after Ighilahriz resigned from parliament, that a new mandate for Bouteflika makes “absolutely no sense.”

“The president is now a virtual president because, for around 10 years, the powers granted to him exclusively and personally have been monopolised by a small group of aides who are exercising these powers in full opacity and complete illegality by using the president as a cover,” Benyelles said.

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