29 April 2014

Algeria: Frail Bouteflika Pledges Reforms

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

Algiers — Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika named Abdelmalek Sellal as prime minister on Monday (April 28th), just hours after being sworn into office for a fourth term.

In a written speech handed out at the Palace of Nations investiture ceremony, the president discussed his objectives for the next five years.

Still in his wheelchair, and with a barely audible voice, Bouteflika was unable to read out all of his speech and said just a few sentences.

But the text of the speech set out his priorities. The first, it said, was the "re-establishment of peace and security in the country".

He appealed to Algeria's lost children to "return to their homes", an allusion to the terrorists still at large. Bouteflika stated that he intended to boost national reconciliation and stressed that the law would "punish acts of terrorism".

The president plans to move towards a general amnesty.

When interviewed by the news website alhadath-dz.com, Farouk Ksentini, the president of the National Advisory Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH), called the step "an important and daring political decision".

"I think implementing this decision is the only way of bringing the national tragedy to a close once and for all," he underlined.

In the same speech, Bouteflika wrote that he would revise the constitution in order to "strengthen institutions and parliament, separate powers and consolidate the position of the opposition and civil rights".

His other aims were "to improve the quality of governance and bureaucracy, tackle corruption and economic crimes and to guarantee the freedom of the courts".

This new appearance by President Bouteflika drew mixed reactions from the public and politicians.

Amar Saadani, the secretary-general of the National Liberation Front (FLN), said that "the entire Algerian nation was waiting for the speech and the president's swearing-in ceremony."

"The president is in good health and can perform his duties," Saadani claimed. "He spoke to citizens and took an oath. He is in possession of all of his physical and mental faculties. In his speech, he mentioned the most important aspects of what he will do in the coming periods."

But for Mohamed Hadibi of opposition Islamist party Ennahda, the investiture was a "non-event".

"The president was very tired. He cannot do his job. The government is pursuing a policy of fait accompli. It is still ignoring the will of the people. His speech, especially the parts about political reforms, demonstrates the failure of the reforms he has already set in motion," he said.

Citizens watched the ceremony very closely. Amine Saouri, an academic, said that the images of the president in a wheelchair "were shocking".

"It is clear that the president is ill," he told Magharebia.

But some Algerians feel that even though he is ill, the president remains "a guarantor of national stability".

"Bouteflika is experienced," public-sector employee Lamia Hilmi said. "Why change course when the risks that things will slide are high?"

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