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Below is a short snippet from the longer version of our Algeria Q3 Forecast:
Domestic politics and policy
As we forecast for Q2, two issues — the presidential succession and the economy — are likely to dominate the Algeria Q3 forecast, and the rest of 2018.
Balance of power
With the March 2019 presidential election now just nine months away there is still no answer to the overriding question of whether President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will, in spite of his health problems, stand for a fifth term. Although he has the backing of all the government-supporting political parties and most government-linked associations, we do not expect an answer to this question until late in the year, or even, as in 2014, until January. In spite of most analysts and media expecting him to stand for a fifth term, it is not a clear-cut issue.
We do not believe that a fifth term has the essential backing of France, which believes that it will lead to an implosion of the regime. Nor is public opinion sympathetic to Bouteflika’s re-election. Indeed, the majority of the population, although no longer much interested in politics, is probably hostile to it.
The problem for the Bouteflika camp is that it has been unable to find an obvious successor. Saïd Bouteflika — who might still stand in place of his brother — is not only highly unpopular but has many enemies within the regime. Of the several other names that have recently been mentioned, Mouloud Hamrouche might still be seen as a ‘reformist’ candidate, especially if there is much social unrest. Ali Benflis, Ahmed Benbitour, Louisa Hanoune, Sid Ahmed Ghozali and several others must now be considered as outsiders. General Hamel Abdelghani, chief of police, was considered a strong possible contender but, as we go to press, he has been dismissed and is therefore no longer a contender.
This makes General Ahmed Gaïd Salah — who prior to Abdelghani’s dismissal would have been an unlikely option because of his many enemies — a much more promising option and possibly the main candidate. In Abdelghani’s absence, Gaïd Salah now has the opportunity to become the country’s new strongman. We believe France and the US might be willing to support his candidacy.
Ahmed Ouyahia is another strong contender. There are rumours that former DRS chief Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediène is at the head of a group that sees him as its preferred candidate, but at the moment these have little foundation. We therefore expect the uneasy ‘cohabitation‘ between Bouteflika and Ouyahia that has characterised the politics of the past six months to continue for a little longer. But we would not be surprised to see Ouyahia dismissed before the year is out.
So long as the presidency maintains its silence, no other candidate can raise a head above the parapet, because of accusations of disloyalty. This means that Ouyahia has no option but to continue pledging his loyalty to Bouteflika. Indeed, his party has been the first to publicly back Bouteflika’s re-election. We also expect the crisis within the FLN to intensify as the year progresses and would not be surprised to see its secretary general, Djamel Ould Abbes, ousted.
After the constitutional amendment of early 2016, no further reforms are expected this year. In our Q2 forecast, we said that the implementation of Article 102, which allows for the president’s replacement for reasons of ill health or incapacity, was a possibility. However, as the election draws nearer, that is now most unlikely. In any case, it is almost impossible to implement because of new clauses in the constitution designed to protect the Bouteflika presidency.
However, we expect increasing criticism and pressure from international NGOs, as well as some foreign governments, over the regime’s continuous and increasing abuse of the new constitution with regard to trade union rights and freedoms and other human rights.
We expect the vacuum at the centre of power to continue until the 2019 elections and possibly thereafter if Bouteflika is re-elected, although we believe the latter scenario would lead to an implosion of the regime. We also expect most of the population to show little interest in politics and for politics, in the formal sense, to continue going backwards.
We also expect the regime to further marginalise and discredit the opposition parties, which are already in a state of fragmentation and disunity, while tightening its repressive apparatus over any emerging social unrest. The regime will continue to repress human and trade union rights and any outspoken criticism, with the bulk of the population continuing to communicate through social media.
Since the beginning of the year, the army has believed that it has reduced domestic militancy to a few small pockets that are gradually being whittled away. Evidence suggests that is the case. The risk from returning Islamic State fighters to the Maghreb, and especially Algeria, also appears to be diminishing.
The danger of social unrest increasing and turning to militancy would also appear to be decreasing, largely because of the regime’s repressive apparatus and also because Algerians have no appetite for more violence.
The greatest threats to security, as in Q2, now come from Libya and, more likely, Algeria’s Sahelian neighbours, Niger and Mali. The Sahel, as explained in this issue, has become an extremely complex security matter. On the one hand there is a greater risk of DRS-type ‘false-flag’ operations, as in the past, while there is also evidence that AQIM in the region may be weakening, even disintegrating.
This article is a snippet taken from our Algeria Q3 Forecast, which is included within our Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security publications. If you would like the full document, or would like to speak to one of our experts about the contents of this article the please contact us.