Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the ailing Algerian president, has tendered his resignation after weeks of protests by hundreds of thousands of people calling for and end to his rule and for broader regime change.
Mr Bouteflika’s resignation was announced by the state news agency on Tuesday night shortly after the army piled more pressure on him by calling for the immediate start of a constitutional process to declare him unfit for office.
General Ahmed Gaid Salah, the chief of staff and until recently a close ally of the president, said the army “sided completely with the demands of the people and its sole ambition was … protecting Algerians from the gang that had seized control of their destiny”.
This was an apparent reference to Mr Bouteflika’s close circle, which includes his brother Said and a range of politicians and senior businessmen.
The 82-year-old head of state has been in office since 1999. He suffered a stroke in 2013 that paralysed him and left his speech impaired. He has not been heard by the people of Algeria for six years. Many suspect that his entourage has been ruling in his name.
Gen Salah signal-led the army’s impatience with Mr Bouteflika and his clique, accusing them of “prolonging the [country’s] crisis” in a statement issued by the defence ministry after a meeting of commanders of the branches of the military.
The chief of staff had already called last week for implementation of the constitutional article that would declare the office of the presidency vacant because the incumbent was unfit. However, no steps were taken — possibly because allies of the president blocked it.
Instead, an announcement was made by Mr Bouteflika on Monday saying he would resign before his term expires on April 28, but only after he had first issued “important decisions” to safeguard the continuity of institutions.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers in 2018 © Reuters
Gen Salah took aim at the announcement saying it had in reality been written by people who were “not constitutional and not authorised” — another probable reference to Said Bouteflika and others in the president’s close circle.
The resignation opens the door for the start of a transitional period overseen by the speaker of the upper chamber of parliament acting as a caretaker president. Under the constitution, an election should be held within three months.
Although some Algerians have been celebrating on the streets, it is unlikely Mr Bouteflika’s resignation will appease protesters who will be pressing for more concessions. They say they distrust a transition overseen by figures from the old regime — including Gen Salah — fearing it will merely preserve the existing system even if under a new president.