Magharebia (Washington DC)

23 April 2014

Algerians Await Bouteflika Reforms

Photo: @maboulazm/Yfrog
Pro-democracy protesters (file photo).

Algiers — Now that Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been elected to a fourth term by a decisive majority, voters expect his electoral promises to translate into action.

Algerians from all backgrounds say they hope the incumbent president will help their living standards improve.

During the election campaign, his representatives pledged a programme of "national renewal" revolving around socio-economic development. Citizens are holding him to his words.

Some citizens want housing and jobs, while others demand a better business climate. Everyone has his own idea of what Bouteflika must fix first.

Zoheir Negah, who is unemployed, expects his ordeal to end.

"I heard the promise made to young people that they will receive help to start up a business," he recalls. "I've filled out an application to ANSEJ (National Youth Employment Association). I hope that my request will now be accepted."

Dalila Makri, a bank employee, has been waiting to buy a home for about thirty years. "Sellal, Bouteflika's campaign manager, talked a lot about the housing crisis coming to an end once and for all," she said.

"Now that we've re-elected him as he wished, I hope that my dream will come true," she added.

Others are not holding their breath, because "you can't do in five years what could not be done in fifteen". This is how Tahar Agoun, a public-sector worker, sums up the situation.

"By what miracle will life suddenly become better in Algeria in such a short amount of time, even if some things have been achieved so far?" he asked.

People in the business world know better than anyone else that jobs can only be created if the economy and industry improve.

"So far, we've relied on oil revenues, which finance most of the things that are essential to life in Algeria," said Mohamed Zaater, who manages a leather goods company.

"It is high time to think about exporting something other than oil and gas," he added.

Businesses also have concerns. National Advisory Council for the Promotion of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) head Zaim Bensaci tells Magharebia: "We need to limit the volume of imports, which has literally exploded recently."

To achieve this goal, steps must be taken to encourage free enterprise, which he says is "the only thing that can prepare the country for the post-oil era".

That will entail "improving the enterprise environment and the business climate". Such a programme must be implemented during the course of this new term, he suggested.

Slim Othmani, who heads the Circle of Action and Reflection on Enterprise (CARE), would like to see "restrictions on companies lifted as quickly as possible, to encourage free enterprise".

Many agreed that tackling bureaucracy, introducing rules on transparency and diversifying economic activity were areas worthy of attention.

"The first challenge for the president is economic and social development," said the president of the Algerian Confederation of Employers (CAP), Mohand-Saïd Naït Abdelaziz.

Everyone is waiting to find out what amendments will be made to the constitution, which will be revised this year, as Bouteflika's representatives claimed during the election campaign.

The fourth term promises to be no easy task.

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