Following weeks of peaceful protests across the country, Algerian President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has postponed the April 18 presidential elections and said he will not be seeking re-election for a fifth term in office.
This is even as the country’s Prime Minister, Ahmed Ouyahia announced his resignation and was replaced by Interior Minister, Noureddine Bedoui, who has been tasked with forming a new government.
The announcement by Bouteflika, who has ruled Algeria for 20 years came a day after he returned home after a two-week stay in a Swiss hospital where he has been receiving treatment since suffering a stroke in 2013.
According to a statement issued on Monday in his name, Bouteflika said a cabinet reshuffle may happen soon, although there was no suggestion in the announcement that the he intends to step down before a rescheduled election.
“There will be no fifth term. There was never any question of it for me. Given my state of health and age, my last duty towards the Algerian people was always contributing to the foundation of a new Republic,” Mr. Bouteflika was quoted as saying in the statement.
Last week, Bouteflika had pledged that he would step down early if re-elected but the guarantee failed to placate the thousands of demonstrators who had shut down commercial activities in the country.
Many of the demonstrators were concerned about the president’s ailing health and worried that his death in office during a fifth term might cause dangerous political instability.
Pressure however mounted on Bouteflika to withdraw from the race on Monday when more than 1,000 judges said they would refuse to oversee the planned general election if he were a candidate.
This was followed by the military’s Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Gaed Salah who said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, an indication that the country’s armed forces were sympathetic to the protests.
Bouteflika’s decision is seen as a partial victory for those who have been on the streets for weeks and questions are already being asked over the legality of prolonging Bouteflika’s term in office beyond the constitutional mandate.
Some argue that the delay could help to ensure a peaceful transition of power by allowing all candidates to campaign properly while addressing the public’s core demand of ousting Bouteflika from office.