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Former Algerian PM Benbitour Ready to Challenge Bouteflika | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Algiers, Asharq Al-Awsat—Former Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Benbitour has announced his willingness to run for president at the expected 2014 presidential elections “if the Algerian people have a desire for change.” He stressed that Algeria cannot remain immune to the wave of change that has struck other regional countries with similar political and social conditions as Algeria.

Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, the former Algerian Prime Minister revealed that he had held “meetings with citizens who believe in change”, adding that many of them had encouraged him to stand at the forthcoming presidential elections. These will be the fifth presidential elections in the history of Algeria.

He said that he was in the process of putting the finishing touches on his electoral program which he will put forward to the Algerian electorate, adding the proviso, “I will not stand for election before I guarantee widespread support.” Benbitour’s electoral program is based on rebuilding Algeria’s flagging economy and diversifying the country’s sources of income as well as confronting Algeria’s reliance on income from fuel exports.

Regarding his view of the situation in the country, Benbitour said, “The crux of the matter today is change, which there is no running from. So should we prepare for this and approach this in a manner that serves our interests, or let problems fester and then change will be imposed on us, perhaps according to a foreign agenda? So will the regime learn the lesson from what is currently taking place in Tunisia and Egypt and take the initiative for a peaceful and smooth change, or will it continue to be stubborn and ultimately be surprised by sweeping change?”

He added, “The country’s rulers believe that it is moving towards collapse, but despite this refuse to prepare for change. This is despite the fact that change will impose itself in the end and under circumstances that will be against our will. We saw what happened in Iraq and Libya and what is currently taking place in Syria as well as what Egypt is living through. We are aware of the difficulty of the transition towards democracy and this is because the leaders of these countries did not prepare for this in time.”

Benbitour served as prime minister of Algeria between December 1999 and August 2000. He previously served as Minister of Energy (1993-94) and Minister of Finance (1994-96). He resigned as prime minister in protest over deep divisions between the office of prime minister and the so-called “president’s ministers”, government ministers taking orders from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Benbitour is the only Algerian prime minister to resign.

The Algerian government launched a package of reforms in 2011 against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. However these reforms were largely viewed as being superficial and not reflecting any real change. The Algerian opposition has accused the government of attempting to waste time and void the reform demands of any significance.

As for reports that those close to President Bouteflika are urging him to run for a fourth term in office, Benbitour told Asharq Al-Awsat, “There is a large group of people today who only excel at bribery, corruption, and mismanagement . . . these figures are served by the president remaining in power for a fourth and fifth term in office, and indeed for life. However if this president fails to understand that it is in the country’s and his own interest to leave before we reach destruction, then this means that he is unaware of the danger of the situation. This is the natural state of autocratic regimes that refuse to listen to opposing views.”

Benbitour stressed that he believed that “the next president (of Algeria) will be the product of change” calling on “the rebuilding of Algeria’s civil and military institutions.”

The former prime minister said that he was not sure if Bouteflika would stand for re-election, but confirmed that the prevailing view is that his brother and senior adviser, Said Bouteflika, wants the president to remain in power. Bouteflika amended Algeria’s constitution in 2008 which had previously restricted presidencies to two terms in office.