Algeria scandals mask high level power struggle

Associated Press Modified: November 24, 2012 at 3:31 am •  Published: November 24, 2012
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Belkhaddem and Ghoul are both close to the 75-year-old Bouteflika and are seen as possible candidates for the 2014 elections.

While Ghoul, for his part, has denied the allegations, the other two have remained silent — as has the Ministry of Justice.

Noureddine Benissad, the president of the Algerian League to Defend Human Rights, expressed outrage over the ministry's lack of action. "The Ministry of Justice should order a judicial investigation," he said, lamenting the lack of independence of the ministry from the executive.

After his appointment in September, Bouteflika's new prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal, like many Algerian leaders before him, promised to lead the fight against corruption. Yet just last week the daily El Watan also published a four page expose over the misuse of public funds, including fancy cars for ministers and the construction of new seaside villas for them from public money.

Algerie News has said it has confidential files in its possession and more corruption revelations are expected — suggesting it is being fed by the feared "Research and Security Department" or DRS, as the intelligence service is known.

The military and security services are meanwhile reportedly backing Ahmed Ouyahia for the presidency, a former prime minister and head of the other main party in the ruling coalition.

Ouyahia coexisted uneasily with Bouteflika for years, but after May's elections and the overwhelming victory of the president's National Liberation Front, he was not asked back as prime minister.

Members of his own party, the National Democratic Rally, have even criticized Ouyahia for using the party to further his presidential ambitions.

According to political expert Mohammed Said, the fact that the revelations involve two politicians close to the president could also be the military's way of warning Bouteflika against harboring any ideas of staying in power.

"It is a likely a warning shot to discourage him from running for a fourth term," he said.

The president, who is rumored to be ailing, had already said that he would not run again and just a week before the May parliamentary elections, he made a landmark speech in which he said that the mission of his generation, the generation that fought the war of independence from France in 1962 and had ruled the country ever since, was over.

He also announced a series of reforms and promised to rewrite the constitution during the start of 2013.

On Tuesday, however, Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia said that the constitution reform process had been postponed — indefinitely.

Columnist Ihsane el-Kadi has suggested that the reform and talk of other candidates is all a smoke screen for Bouteflika's own continuing presidential ambitions.

"For several months, he's been pushing the idea that if there is no agreement on his successor, it should be him," he said in the online news site Maghreb Emergent. "I sincerely doubt he ever thought it wouldn't be him."

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Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco.