Algiers, Algeria – A breakaway faction within Algeria‘s ruling party has backed the army chief’s call for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to be declared unfit to rule the country, even as several opposition parties and protesters denounced the powerful general’s remarks as an attempt to stifle their movement.
Following weeks of youth-led anti-Bouteflika protests, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah on Tuesday suggested that the Constitutional Council invoke Article 102, which could lead to Bouteflika’s impeachment on health grounds.
“We call upon all National Liberation Front (FLN) activists to support General Gaid Salah’s proposal,” a group of dissident politicians within the party said in a statement on Wednesday.
The announcement came shortly after former Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia called on 82-year-old Bouteflika, who has been confined to a wheelchair since 2013, to leave office.
Ouyahia said in a statement he “recommended the resignation of the president in order to facilitate the transition period within the framework of the constitution”.
The former prime minister’s National Rally for Democracy party is a member of the ruling coalition, which is dominated by the FLN.
Ouyahia also urged for the “swift formation of a new cabinet”.
His comments stood in sharp contrast to earlier remarks before being replaced in a cabinet reshuffle on March 11 by Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui, when he had warned of looming chaos and descent into civil conflict if the anti-government rallies persisted.
Meanwhile, Abdelmadjid Sidi Said, the head of the influential General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA) and a staunch Bouteflika supporter, also withdrew his backing for Bouteflika, endorsing the army’s call for his dismissal.
“The UGTA welcomes and acknowledges the call of Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah to the application of Article 102 of the Constitution,” Sidi Said said in a statement on Wednesday, the latest blow to Bouteflika’s hotly contested leadership.
According to Article 102, the constitutional council is allowed to investigate the health of a president, after which it could proceed to declare the person’s incapacity to carry out their duties.
A joint session of both lower and upper houses of parliament must then verify the findings, with two-thirds of the legislature required to validate the decision.
The head of the upper house is then called upon to govern as caretaker president for a period of 45 days. If Bouteflika is still deemed unfit to resume his duties, the Senate’s president has three months to organise a new presidential election.
“To resolve the crisis right now, the implementation of Article 102 is necessary and is the only guarantee to maintain a peaceful political situation,” Salah, the army chief and a confidant of Bouteflika, said in a televised address on Tuesday.
“It is necessary, even imperative, to adopt a solution to get out of this crisis that responds to the legitimate demands of the Algerian people, and which respects and adheres to the constitution and safeguards the sovereignty of the state,” he added.
‘Bypassing the will of the people’
But Salah’s call was rejected by several major opposition leaders, who have backed the anti-government uprising, as well as protesters.
“It is too late to enforce Article 102. This should have been done years ago, and not one month before the end of the president’s fourth term,” Mustapha Bouchachi, a prominent lawyer, told Al Jazeera.
Earlier this month, Bouteflika postponed elections set for April 18 and said he would remain in power until a new constitution was adopted, a move that effectively extended his current term.
“The Algerian people won’t accept that Abdelkader Bensalah, the president of the Senate, who has played a significant role in the corrupted system over the past decade and is, among others, responsible of electoral fraud, to take over from Abdelaziz Bouteflika and oversee the transition,” said Bouchachi.
The lawyer, who has built a reputation as an indefatigable human rights defender over the years, added that Algerians wanted to do away with the symbols of the old guard.
“None of them should have a word to say about the future of Algeria,” he said, calling for the formation of a “government of national unity” to assist in the transition period.
“Only independent figures, who have never been in power, should be appointed.”
Meanwhile, members of Algeria’s Workers’ Party (PT) announced on Wednesday their collective resignation from parliament, in the first such act since the political crisis began on February 22.
“We will not give credit to what appears to be strategy to bypass people’s will,” Ramdane Tazibt, a former PT member of parliament, told Al Jazeera while warning against the army’s “dangerous intervention in politics”.
“Gaid Salah’s decision only aims at rescuing the system, by pushing Bouteflika out of the power and handing it over to [Senate President] Bensalah … Before any presidential election, we must first discuss the nature of the new regime we want to live in.”
Speaking at a press conference in Algiers, on Wednesday, Mohcine Belabbas, head of the liberal Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) party, accused the army chief of overstepping his role.
“He does not have the right to call for the Constitution to use the Article 102 […] This is a political manoeuvre of a faction within the regime,” Belabbas said.
The RCD called for the dissolution of both houses and the constitutional council; the establishment of a collegial presidency to oversee the transition, and the formation of a government of national salvation to manage the state’s day-to-day affairs.
According to Belabbas, “the members of the collegial presidency must be under 60 years old and should be elected by independent trade unions, such as the judiciary body and the high education institution. They will be in charge of initiating talks with various social groups.”