Last week’s unexpected resignation of Djamel Ould Abbès as the ruling Front de Libération Nationale’s (FLN’s) Secretary-General — whether he is genuinely ill or was pushed out — makes a fifth term for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika even more uncertain. It has been Ould Abbès more than anyone who, for the last eight months, has been beating the drum for a fifth term.
There has been a growing consensus over the last few weeks and months that the Bouteflika camp does not know how to manage the April 2019 presidential election. They clearly have no Plan B to a Bouteflika fifth term. Or, if there is one, possibly involving the recently dismissed national police chief General Abdelghani Hamel, that has now been blown out of the water by General Ahmed Gaïd Salah’s dismissal of Hamel, along with most of the country’s other top generals.
Prior to this week’s events the idea of trying to wheel the ailing president into another term of office, as was achieved in 2014, was looking increasingly absurd, especially when the latest video clips of him being strapped into a wheel chair and being unable to touch the flag were shown.
However — prior to Ould Abbès’ downfall this week, for whatever reason, and the emergence of Justice Minister Tayeb Louh as a possible very belated Plan B candidate — it looked as if the presidential clan was going to attempt the near-impossible and try and keep the ailing Bouteflika in office, if only to buy more time to try and resolve the succession issue.
If the Bouteflika clan has been serious in this endeavour, or even if it is possible to turn to an alternative candidate such as justice minister Tayeb Louh, it will need the support of both Washington and Paris. The regime needs their backing not just to help it paper over the political vacuum in power and the lack of any clear alternatives, but also to help fix the economy. On that front, Washington is particularly important.