Algeria’s biggest union and an influential party on Wednesday backed an army call for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit in a managed exit plan that was quickly rejected by protesters demanding the overthrow of the entire political elite.
The statement from the National Rally for Democracy (RND), a member of the ruling coalition, came a day after the military – Algeria’s traditional kingmakers – said Bouteflika should be declared unfit for office.
The General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), long a staunch supporter of the president, also said it supported the army call for Bouteflika to step down.
The announcements by three pillars of the establishment were a clear signal that the 82-year-old president – who has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 – has little to no chance of staying in power in the North African country, an oil and gas producer.
The army has been patiently waiting for the right moment to intervene, after winning over Bouteflika’s allies in a process that has emptied out his inner circle, in the hopes of a smooth transition period, political sources said.
But the leaders of five weeks of mass protests fuelled by anger over alleged corruption, nepotism and economic mismanagement said the plan still did not go far enough, risking a confrontation with the military.
“Protests will continue… Algerians’ demands include a change of the political system,” Mustapha Bouchachi, a lawyer and activist, told Reuters.
“The implementation of Article 102 (the part of the constitution that covers declaring a president unfit for office) means that the symbols of the system will oversee the transition period and organise presidential elections,” he said.
Protesters have repeatedly said they would reject any orchestrated succession in politics and want a transition which will lead to a government by consensus.
“We want a real democracy not a facade of a democracy,” said postal worker Zakaria Jaziri 26.
Any outright military rejection of demands for a democratic transition could deepen the biggest political crisis since 1992, when generals cancelled an election that Islamists were poised to win, triggering a civil war that killed 200,000 people.
“We welcome the army’s initiative but we do not want Bouteflika’s men to govern us until the next election,” said state bank employee Djamel Hadidi, 37.