Algeria is in the midst of a political crisis as the 82 year old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced early this year that he would seek a further term in office. Although Bouteflika fought in Algeria’s war of liberation against France and later guided the country to victory its difficult civil war, today, a very different situation is developing.
Since 2013, Bouteflika has been confined to a wheelchair after a stroke. Rumours continue to spread that Bouteflika is on the verge of being mentally incapacitated owing to his illness and advancing age. As such, the general consensus is that Bouteflika remains as a figurehead in Algeria while the military and political elite of Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front (NLF) party continue to run the country.
For months, there have been large scale but mostly peaceful protests in Algiers and elsewhere against Bouteflika. The protesters are a diverse mix of anti-corruption demonstrators, agitated youth, elements of the population demanding a better economy and those from religious parties (including some radical ones) who oppose the NLF’s secular Arab Nationalist philosophy.
Although Bouteflika eventually agreed not to seek a further term in office, this has not done anything to end the protests as the current demand is for an immediate resignation. As a result, elements of the powerful military and some members of the NLF have suggested that Bouteflika should step down or be removed from office in a convoluted constitutional process, so that his deputies can form a new interim government. Whilst this has served to divide the NLF, the proposals appear to be rejected by those representing the protesters.
And yet all of this could be avoided if Algeria had a strong parliamentary system rather than a hybrid-presidential system which in reality is quite a strong presidential system.
In parliamentary systems, it behoves a political party to work quickly to remove an unpopular, incapable or overly tired leader so as to improve the fortunes of said party prior to the next election. As such, it is difficult to imagine Bouteflika remaining at the helm of his party in a genuine parliamentary system.
At the same time, parliamentary systems do not use reductionist term limits to stifle the democratic will of party members or the public at large who want to support a party with an experienced and capable leader. This is why for example the 93 year old Mahathir Mohamad is Malaysia’s Prime Minister. Unlike Bouteflika, Mahathir remains as mentally agile as he was in 1981 when he first became Prime Minister.
The Philippines has experienced both extremes. While the Yellows have constantly told malicious lies about the character and record of long serving President Ferdinand Marcos ,a man who like Bouteflika saw his country through a difficult period in which both religious and communist extremists threatened the lawful order, in the last years of his presidency, Marcos was growing ill and ended up delegating many of his duties to less capable deputies. In a parliamentary system, he could have arranged for an orderly transition of party political power whilst the meritocratic nature of parliamentary systems would have helped to produce a younger leader who would have been able to fill Marcos’s political shoes and allow for a continuity of governance without any fallout due to a change in the head of government.
Inversely, during the recent presidency of Noynoy Aquino, scandal upon scandal and failure upon failure did nothing to shorten his period in power. The current presidential system in The Philippines prohibited him from being peacefully removed from office whilst by contrast, a would-be Prime Minister Aquino could have been easily removed either by his own party or by a parliamentary vote of no confidence.
Thus, one sees that for The Philippines, a parliamentary system would be the most assured way to allow for the possibility of a Filipino version of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew or Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad whilst disallowing the possibility of the kind of crisis currently unfolding in Algeria.