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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Bouteflika’s Age Unites an Opposition Coalition

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After a year in power, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, remains in office and has hardly looked visibly weaker. He has won two by-elections, squashed a growing movement for constitutional reform and secured a new life term by the vice president he has handpicked to succeed him. Now, after a tumultuous decade of transformation, his grip is strong and Algeria’s political scene is uncertain.

Despite years of economic development and a series of democratic reforms, the decline of the country’s ruling party, the National Liberation Front, still undermines Algeria’s civilian political order.

Opinion polls suggest most Algerians want a less centralized state and a stronger role for the judiciary, but there is little interest in politics outside of tightly regulated, tribal domains, and the ruling party commands the loyalty of more than half the country’s voters. A huge trade union bureaucracy keeps a lid on discontent.

In an era when everyone has a smartphone, propaganda is more sophisticated and social media exposes political minutiae and corruption. The government, meanwhile, is hiring armies of techno-savvy Arabic-language cyber-spies to keep tabs on any vocal opposition. Yet for all that Algerians have managed to extract more from their rulers and the economy has rebounded, there is a sense that they are still better off.

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