A guessing game: Ouyahia

"Ineligible voters for Ouyahia"

When Ahmed Ouyahia was appointed Prime Minister of Algeria for the third time earlier this summer, it was an important signal for the direction of the country in the next year. He has been especially close to the president since at least 1999, having helped the president domestically in Kabylia, and internationally in Eritrea and Mali. When the parliament recessed for the summer under his auspices, it did so without having taken any action whatsoever towards producing a constitutional amendment to allow the President to run for a third term. When it reconvened this week, it seemed to have little intent of following through. In this, the time for Bouteflika, aging and (physically) weathered, seems to have come. This post considers that he may have chosen Ahmed Ouyahia.

It had been Belkhadem’s job for many months to promote the amendment as being in the national interest among the country’s two to three relevant political parties and the population more generally. His labors were apparently insufficient. Few lawmakers were willing to draft legislation in that direction, and the population, notoriously despondent and resentful of the leadership’s reluctance to change or allow their lot to influence politics, was cool to the idea. Though most all legislators are supportive of Bouteflika’s administration (they would not be in the APN if they were not), the realized that amending the constitution would erode the country’s institutional integrity and make them look bad. When Bouteflika swapped Belkhadem for Ouyahia in June, he seemed to have recognized this as well. Thus, while he has said that the amendment is on its way, indeed “imminent,” he realizes that there with either be no referendum or that it will not result in a third term for Boutetflika per se, but for whomever follows him.

Recognizing Belkhadem’s failure, Bouteflika moved to replace him with someone historically loyal and capable of pleasing both the bureaucracy  and the military, with broad credentials. Ouyahia possesses these in multiple areas: Firstly, he is a Bouteflika loyalist, and Bouteflika can consequently believe that he will attempt to continue the existing order as much as is feasible; Secondly, he is a diplomat, having served in the United Nations and throughout Africa; Thirdly, he is of Kabyle extraction and has mediated between Algiers and the arrouche movement; Fouthly, he is capable of playing the éradicateur line and at the same time working more constructively; Finally, he is young and realtively healthy (he has 56 years compared to Bouteflika’s 71). He is, as a friend put it, “Bouteflika with hair.” Such a figure is necessary as Bouteflika ages. As his age in office increases, so does the possibility of a coup or death in office (a la Boumediene).

The APN’s opening session seems to indicate that Ouyahia is a credible candidate for succession because he is as good as a third Bouteflika term. Firstly, when Ouyahia was asked about the amendment, his response was that “all things come in their own time.” These things perhaps refer to his ascendence as president of the republic. It is difficult to believe that he was referring to the amendment using that language, because parliamentarians have yet to receive any paperwork or direction regarding the third term. Speaker Abdelaziz Ziari, another Bouteflika confidant, spoke of the necessity for “social stability” and for the country’s politics and institution to be resuscitated. Social stability meaning that, should there not be a third Bouteflika term, the next administration will be in fact the third Bouteflika term without Bouteflika.

In addition, both men infused the open session with the language of the éradicateurs. Ziari, an ideological friend of Bouteflika, spoke of the need for magnanimous action against “hooligans who hate the people of Algeria and their progress and achievements.” Such language is aimed at reassuring more hard line elements within the country that Bouteflika’s clique is trustworthy on terrorism. At this point, it would be impossible for any Algerian politician to even think of the Presidency without using harsh language against the GSPC/AQIM. It would not be surprising if those in Bouteflika’s camp saw AQIM’s strategy to be in part directed at driving a wedge between those who supported the Peace and Reconciliation deal and the éradicateurs within the defense establishment, by attacking police and gendarme with great force (as they have in the recent bombings). Those closest to the presidency therefore see themselves as needing to reassure the military before they can seriously consider the possibility of assuming national leadership. Standing in Ouyahia’s way, though, is Belkhadem’s ambitions, which are less pronounced and to some degree less viable (Bouteflika seems to have lost interest in the idea of grooming him for leadership, and he comes from the FLN, and not the ruling party, but that means nothing outside of symbolism).

7 thoughts on “A guessing game: Ouyahia

  1. He is, as a friend put it, “Bouteflika with hair.”

    Haha! Spot on.

    Ouyahia has said repeatedly he will not run against Bouteflika in an election, but he also hasn’t denied having an interest in the presidency. I’m positive that there must have been a deal worked out at the point when they dropped Belkhadem, as to what will happen in this regard. I think it is conceivable that constitutional changes will let Boutef have his 3rd term, but that he will also be forced to (or accept willingly to) create the post of vice president, and that this is likely to be Ouyahia. Such an arrangement would set him up to assume power smoothly after Boutef, whether he dies in office or not, and, given that he’s close to various éradicateur military interests, it can soothe their feelings about another mandate for Bouteflika & his brand of Islamo-national-reconciliationism.

    All said, I think he could conceivably be a good pick too. Not because he’s a great democrat or anything like that, but because he’s strong within the system and has some chance to maintain stability & regime cohesion & the power of the (civilian) presidency in the face of military intrigues, in a post-Boutef era. What are his views on economic reform, though? I recall he did some impopular axing of state firms in the 90s, right?

  2. I agree that Bouteflika dropped Belkhadem in favor of Ouyahia because of the latter’s stronger links with the military leadership. I think the eradicateur crowd saw Belkhadem as ineffectual. But, although it’s in the background, there’s an economic policy dimension to this as well. It’s worth remembering that Ouyahia quit in 2006 because he opposed salary hikes for state workers, while Belkhadem favored that type of populist, statist program. As Alle notes above, Ouyahia tends to favor a more limited role for the state in Algeria’s economy. I doubt he’ll be able to make much progress on that front. The government has made some vague statements in the past month about restricting foreign investment and requiring a controlling stake for the state in major projects. Add that to the ongoing foot-dragging on bank and telecom privatizations, and you have a pretty good indication that the government is finding it hard to break its old habits.

  3. I don’t know how dependent he will be on the RND as a support base — more the other way around, I like to think — but both that party and the government or semi-government organs he can try to lean on as president, are heavily invested in the economic/bureaucratic status quo.

    Then again, I think most Algerian leaders, in both army and state, must realize that economic liberalization is necessary, even if they aren’t always ready to take the consequences and fight the turf wars necessary to carry it out.

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