BOUTEFLIKA, Abdelaziz

Born on the 2nd of March 1937 in Oujda (Morocco) to a family from Tlemcen, an important town in the western part of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika joined the National Liberation Army (ALN) in 1956 and was given the nom de guerre of Si Abdelkader, which remained his nickname together with another one, the Moroccan, which refers to his birthplace.

After Algeria’s independence in 1962, he became deputy of Tlemcen in the Constituent Assembly and Minister for Youth and Sport in the government led by Ahmed Ben Bella. The next year, he was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs and remained in this position until the death of President Houari Boumedienne in 1978, of who he was considered to be the right arm.

In 1979, he expected to succeed Boumedienne as President but the Army decided otherwise and chose Chadli Bendjedid instead. Although he then became Minister of State, he was progressively pushed away and left the political arena in 1981.

In 1983, he left the country and stayed in the UAE, in France and Switzerland. After six years abroad, he finally came back and joined the Central Committee of the National Liberation Font (FLN) in 1989.

In January 1994, Bouteflika refused the Army’s proposal to succeed the assassinated president Mohamed Boudiaf, presumably to avoid asking the support of the political parties. Instead, General Liamine Zeroual became President.

In April 1999, Bouteflika finally ran for the presidential elections and was elected officially with 74% of the votes, after the 6 other candidates pulled out on the eve of the elections , denouncing vote-rigging in favour of Bouteflika, who benefited from the support of the army.

His election seems to have been a turning point in the civil war that started in January 1992. After the cease-fire proclaimed by the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) in June 1999, President Bouteflika forgave the next month, on the occasion of Independence Day, 2,300 jailed Islamists and presented to Parliament the « National Harmony Law », providing mainly for an amnesty for members and supporters of the AIS. He also announced that the proposals contained in the law, approved or not by both houses of the Parliament, would be submitted to a referendum to be held before the end of September and promised to step down as president should the result be negative.

Although staunchly opposed by the RCD whose members boycotted the vote, the law was adopted in both houses, with 288 of the 380 members of the lower house voting in favour and 131 of the 150 members of the upper house doing the same.

The ensuing referendum was a huge success with a record participation of 85% and 98,63 Yes. After this approval, around 20,000 more prisoners were freed. Unfortunately so far, the civil war continued – there were 1000 deaths during the five first months of 2000 – but with a lower intensity and the GIA, although isolated, performed others massacres.

Moreover, the Algerian President made some gestures to improve the foreign relations of the country, most significantly with its Moroccan neighbour (the relations with Morocco, often difficult, were practically frozen since 1994). Bouteflika declared a 3-day mourning period in Algeria after the death of King Hassan II in July 1999 and also declared that the fate of Western Sahara, the main reason for tensions between the two countries, was « strictly a problem for the UN ».

On the 8th of April 2004, Bouteflika was re-elected President of the Republic with 83.49% of the votes against 5 other candidates.  Ali Benflis, his main rival and former right-hand, as well as two of the other candidates, Adballah Djaballah and Saïd Sadi, issued a joint statement denouncing fraud “at all levels”. However, the 120 international observers monitoring the poll did not signal any irregularities, and Bouteflika’s re-election was rapidly welcomed by the French and American presidents. For the first time since the independence of Algeria, the army publicly affirmed its neutrality and non-involvement in the electoral process.

During his colossal campaign, Bouteflika gave particular attention to the Zaouïa, religious confraternities, in return of which he received their support. Despite allegations of ballot-rigging, many Algerians supported his bid for a second term, satisfied by his success in bringing back peace to the country after 10 years of civil war. For his second mandate, Bouteflika announced he would amend the Constitution, regroup the different parties into two “poles” and exert more control over private press, initiatives which have caused concern to some analysts and intellectuals who fear for the future of liberties in Algeria.

He was reelected in 2004 at first lap. In 2005, A. Bouteflika was appointed honorary president of the FLN by the Eighth Party Congress.

From the beginning of this mandate, the President is strongly criticized in particular for his attacks on the press with the arrest of journalists in 2004, including Mr. Benchicou, journalist for the daily Le Matin, who wrote a book on the president (« Bouteflika, an Algerian imposture »). A. Bouteflika was denounced by Reporters Without Borders for endangering the private press.

In 2005, A. Bouteflika launches his plan of « restoration of civil peace in Algeria » and submits it to a referendum in September to adopt measures that would enable such an objective. Among these measures: the right to reparations to the families of missing persons, the establishment of a form of amnesty for members of armed groups not guilty of massacres and the creation of an aid for widows and orphans of members of Armed groups killed. The families of victims of the Civil War and associations for the protection of human rights opposing such measures were not allowed to take part to the debates during the referendum campaign. The media remained silent while the campaign for the « yes » was largely financed by the State and public funds. The results have been denounced by the opposition. Indeed, the « yes » received 97.36% of the votes and participation was set at 79.76%, except in Kabylia, where participation was only 12%.

In 2006, Mr. Bouteflika closed 42 French speaking institutions for “linguistic deviation”.

On November 12th 2008, the Algerian parliament voted the modification of Article 74 of the Constitution (500 « yes », 21 « no » and 8 abstentions). The amendment provides, inter alia, the abolition of the limit to two consecutive presidential terms. On February 12th 2009, President Bouteflika announces that he would run for a third term.

In terms of economic policy, A. Bouteflika leads a policy of public works without boosting private enterprise and while the State has amassed large amounts of petrodollars in the recent years, social crisis and poverty remain.

In foreign policy, A. Bouteflika fails to improve relations with Morocco about the problem of Western Sahara. Concerning the United States, he proposed to President Bush, after the attacks of September 11th, to cooperate in all areas. Finally, his relationship with France deteriorated after the French 2005 law stating among others the “positive role of colonization « and the draft of Franco-Algerian friendship Treaty-set up after J. Chirac’s 2003 visit to Alger- is now in a deadlock.

During A. Bouteflika’s mandate, the Berber question is not either resolved and the 2004 presidential elections were largely boycotted by the Berbers. Before the referendum on national reconciliation in 2005, Bouteflika’s government finds an agreement with the Berber leaders and promises that their demands will be met. However, on the eve of the election, the president returned to his promises, in particular concerning the question of providing Algeria with two official languages. The referendum was boycotted by 95% the Berbers.

On April 9th 2009 A. Bouteflika is sure to win the presidential elections, facing a hardly-known opposition, without means, which did not receive the same media coverage as the president and calling for a boycott of the elections. According to the media, only the participation rate is the unknown fact of the ballot.

On April 10th 2009, after a campaign whose fairness has been questioned and accusations of irregularities have been made by the media and the opposition, Abdelaziz Bouteflika is elected President of the Republic of Algeria for the third time with 90.24% of votes for a participation rate of 74.11%.