ALGIERS (AFP) – Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced on Monday he is dropping his bid for a fifth term in office, scrapping the upcoming elections altogether after weeks of protests against his candidacy.
“Peacefully, we have overthrown the puppet!” people sang in Algiers following the President’s decision.
Celebratory honking of car horns rang out in the city centre, as Algerians waved their national flags on streets deserted by police.
“There will not be a fifth term” and “there will be no presidential election on April 18,” Bouteflika announced in a message carried by the official APS news agency.
The veteran leader said he was responding to “a pressing demand that you have been numerous in making to me.”
Demonstrations against Bouteflika’s bid for another term have brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets for each of the last three Fridays, with smaller demonstrations taking place on other days.
The President vowed “to hand over the duties and prerogatives of the President of the republic to the successor freely chosen by the Algerian people,” but gave no date for new elections.
In a broader political shake-up, Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui replaced the unpopular Ahmed Ouyahia as Prime Minister and has been tasked with forming a new government, according to APS. And the country’s New Deputy Prime Minister Ramtane Lamamra in an interview with RFI radio said the next elections would be “absolutely free” and called on all Algerians in the face of this “historic responsibility” to work together “for a better future”.
Bouteflika, whose rare public appearances since he suffered a stroke in 2013 have been in a wheelchair, returned to Algeria last Sunday after spending two weeks at a hospital in Switzerland.
Former colonial power France on Monday welcomed the president’s decision to not stand for a fifth term.
“France expresses its hope that a new dynamic that can answer the deep aspirations of the Algerian people will rapidly take hold,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
Although credited with helping foster peace after Algeria’s decade-long civil war, Bouteflika has faced criticism for alleged authoritarianism.
Fatiha Benabou, a constitutional rights expert at the University of Algiers, said there was “no legal basis to postpone the elections”.
“In the case of a political crisis, the Algerian constitution is partially ineffective,” she said.
On social media, some Algerians were calling to continue the protests as Bouteflika said he’s not seeking re-election but remains in office.