Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has agreed to step down before his term ends on 28 April, conceding to the demands of millions of people who have demonstrated for weeks against his running for a fifth term.
The 82-year-old, who has been in power for 20 years, will ensure “continuity of the state’s institutions” before he quits, a presidential statement carried by state news agency APS said.
The reports came hours after Bouteflika hinted at his decision to resign by naming a caretaker; incumbent Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui will head the administration of 27 other ministers.
His resignation is likely to invoke Article 102 of the Algerian constitution, under which Boutfelika would be deemed unfit to rule, and would see state officials move towards a transition.
In recent weeks, several senior members of Bouteflika’s ruling party, the National Liberation Front (FLN) have been calling for Article 102 to be enacted, with the army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah joining the calls on Saturday.
After the declaration made by Salah – who has been known for his loyalty to Bouteflika during his 15 years of service – the National Rally for Democracy (RND), one of the pillars of the ruling presidential alliance, also renounced the president. The party’s Secretary-General, Ahmed Ouyahia, demanded Bouteflika’s resignation.
The octogenarian leader has been the subject of intense protests since the beginning of the year after he announced he would run for a fifth term. Despite recanting his decision last month, he stopped short of stepping down immediately, postponing an election scheduled for April, stating that he would wait for a national conference on political change, perceived by many as a tactic to buy time.
Millions of Algerians took to the streets on Friday for the sixth week; 70 per cent of the country’s population is under 30, having known no leader other than Bouteflika during their adult life. Youth unemployment has also been steadily rising in recent years, with one in three out of long term work.
Algeria’s political sphere has been dominated by veterans of the country’s independence war from France in 1962. Bouteflika has ruled the country since 1999, despite promising in 2012 to step down after his third term. The president is now wheelchair bound after suffering a stroke in 2013, and has not spoken publicly for the past five years.
However doubt remains as to what alternative will be proposed after Bouteflika; many Algerians are concerned that the resignation will prove just a change of face, with another senior FLN official brought to the fore to lead the country.
Commentators are envisaging continued protests this Friday, with demonstrators reiterating the need for a governmental turnaround on corruption, unemployment and the influence of the ruling class.