A ghost President with ghost achievements came to be the most appropriate description of Algeria’s ailing president Bouteflika whose public appearances are a thing of the past. As was expected, after three days of waiting in Algiers, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro joined the list of heads of state whose supposed meetings with Bouteflika never took place, further igniting concerns over the Algerian President’s capacity to govern.
Prior to Maduro, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had to call off her visit to Algeria last February due to the failing health of Bouteflika. Few weeks later, Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s visit was also postponed sine die.
Analysts deem that maintaining a sick President whose physical and mental capacities are shrouded in uncertainty is indicative of a power struggle within the country’s regime. The contending clans within the regime seem not in agreement over Bouteflika’s successor. Therefore, they maintain the ailing 80-year old President as a time buying measure in a sign that bodes ill for the country’s future.
Bouteflika’s health also casts a shadow on the opacity of a regime, where power is generally presumed to reside among groups of military leaders, intelligence officials, businessmen, and politicians collectively known as le pouvoir.
Algeria’s leader rarely appears in public since a 2013 stroke left him confined to a wheelchair. He has since traveled several times to France for medical treatment.
Regime opacity and the secrecy shrouding the successor to Bouteflika have also been hampering Algeria from carrying out economic reforms to wean their economy from dependence on hydrocarbons, especially as the languishing oil prices at 50 dollars a barrel are set to last for years longer.
Uncertainty over Bouteflika’s succession adds to Algeria’s explosive mix: ailing economy, dwindling oil revenues, widespread corruption, fragile social cohesion and lingering terrorist threat, which make the country a powder keg waiting to explode.