The Constitutional revision allowing for Bouteflika’s third term will be rammed through within the next two months, according to Abdelaziz Belkhadem, his personal representative. Though members of parliament had said that the amendment would be impossible by the end of the year just months ago, it seems that law makers can accomplish anything when the man gunning for an extension of his mandate raises their wages by 300%. This surely has Louisa Hanoune hopping mad, whose party has supported the amendment but is fielding her as a candidate in the elections. The “scandalous” pay hike has made her “very angry.” But Hanoune did say that she did not oppose Bouteflika running next time around, but believed that a no confidence option (in the form of a popular referendum), for elected officials “from mayors on through the president” should be included in the constitutional revisions, a kind of recall option. Hanoune doesn’t oppose the idea of allowing an individual to run for the same office as many times as they like, the idea of term limits strikes her as “anti-democratic.” “Ce n’est pas un problème de mandat. Nous sommes pour la liberté de candidatures. Mais l’essence de la démocratie est la révocabilité”. This is pure populism, and it will not go very far within the political system.
What she is saying, though, is that she will go along with Bouteflika’s bid, and is playing the role of the semi-independent opposition candidate who probably will not break 10% in the polls depending on how many other people run and is running half as a service to Bouteflika and half as a means of promoting her party’s agenda. This is political gaming on the part Bouteflika’s camp, and in the broader context has little to do with ideology or democratic principles. She will huff and puff and pick up some votes, and he will continue to groom Ouyahia to take his spot, whilst re-taking the presidency, and things will barely appear competitive until all others withdraw and the tally comes in, showing that massive posters of Bouteflika handling doves persuaded the men paid to rig the ballot boxes to favor the President over Ms. Hanoune.
Support for the amendment is support for the third term: this is not a matter of framing alone, it is a matter of hard political fact, and Ms. Hanoune undoubtedly knows this. Hanoune was the first woman to run for high office in the Arab world and has a strong reputation as an independent, which has made her useful to the ruling clique in recent years. She stands as one of the strongest members of the non-religious/Islamist opposition. Her Parti des travailleurs (PT) is Algeria’s chief (if not only) Trotskyite party, and her background is colorful. Her reputation as “the only man in Algerian politics” still stands, at least rhetorically (her tongue is as sharp as they come). Her searing wrath is famously merciless, though the PT’s numbers are too small for it to hurt any of the country’s major brokers. The fact remains that she has been co-opted by the regime and the radical nature of her party and, rather sadly, her gender make her operations dependent on the good will of Bouteflika and his allies. The parliamentary success of the PT is due in part to a desire on the part of the RND/FLN to have a relatively large secular buffer between themselves and the minor Islamist-esque parties, along with the semblance of a semi-democratic air. She has taken principled stands against government on various issues (especially those relating to education and the economy, where she has been at odds with Ouyahia), and has reached out internationally (she took part in the International Tribunal on Katrina and Rita, for example; listen to her interesting description of the aftermath of the 2003 earthquake) — but this will not help her win the presidency. Her party members have been harassed and their activities frustrated in parts of the country in the last three years, but they have been allowed to gain seats in parliament still.
This is the initiation of her campaign in earnest; she will speak sharply and precisely, as Algerians do and as she is known to do, but will shy away from hitting too hard — she has a career to consider. And les pouvoir have a country to rob.