I just started reading the third volume of Ahmed Taleb-Ibrahimi‘s memoirs. I will probably write something about it when I am finished (hope it won’t be as boring as the first 50 pages of the book) just like I wrote about the second volume (here and here). Right now it is the story he relates in the very first pages which I would like to share. The next presidential elections will be held on April 17 and it would serve to know how Chadli Bendjedid, Algeria’s third president, had been (s)elected.
I haven’t read Chadli’s memoirs yet and I don’t know how much they match with Taleb’s. The episode related by Taleb coincides quite well with Hocine Malti’s version. Anyway, I don’t expect Taleb to lie so it is safe to share his perspective even if it is just his perspective and he probably didn’t know everything.
In 1979 Algeria, being the FLN’s candidate was equal to becoming Algeria’s next president for the people did “vote” for the Front’s only candidate (Chadli scored 94% in the February 7, 1979 elections). So all the aspirants to the throne fought in the shadows to be selected by the FLN and that’s how things were after Boumediene‘s death. And to be more accurate, it was not the FLN as an institution that really selected its candidate… Read the below (Taleb’s account with mine own words).
Bouteflika and Mohamed Salah Yahiaoui both wanted to succeed Boumediene. One says he was the late president’s spiritual son and protégé and the latter believes he’s best fit to continue the late president’s project as he shares his ideology and vision (Bouteflika being more liberal). And everybody (among the deciders) thought that it was in the country’s best interest to avoid divisions and select the FLN’s candidate before the FLN’s Congress (which was supposed to do it).
Each of Bouteflika and Yahiaoui had two supporters among the Revolution’s Council. The remaining two members didn’t support either: Abdelghani thought both unfit and Bencherif thought he deserved it more than they did.
As the Revolution Council couldn’t decide, both candidates sought support elsewhere. Yahiaoui had the bigger chances as he held the FLN with its nationally/locally deployed structures as well as the other mass organisations (UGTA, etc.) Bouteflika, FA minister wasn’t really known internally until he read Boumediene’s eulogy. The speech was written by the FLN and Yahiaoui should have read it but, for some unknown reason, somebody gave it to Bouteflika who performed very well displaying his affection for the man and all his emotions. The People then knew him and knew how much he loved the late president.
Kasdi Merbah, with other high-ranking officers (Belloucif and Benyelles), decided to choose another man and they thought of Chadli for several reasons: He’s from the east, his wife from the west and they lived in Oran where he was liked. He didn’t have any personal ambitions and neither did he have charisma. So the Army gathered at the ENITA school and appointed Chadli as its candidate.
Before the Revolution Council met again, Boualem Benhamouda visited Taleb and asked him for help as Bencherif was apparently saying he’d use the 20,000 men under his command and take over the presidency. So both went to see the colonel and told him how much his life would be different and dangerous, etc. Taleb says that Bencherif’s wife was present and hints that it was her who may have changed her husband’s plans.
On the Council’s meeting day, Bencherif proposes Chadli and all the other members (Yahiaoui and Bouteflika included) approve. Chadli apparently told them, “thanks for your trust. I ask you to not interfere with my decisions and I promise none of you would go to prison”.
Bouteflika, Yahiaoui and Merbah all liked this choice as they thought Chadli would do well till things calmed down and he would step down easily when one of them would clain his rightful seat. We know they were wrong. Chadli told Taleb that, “his hair grew prematurely white because of the many conspiracies he had to face and survive”.
Now you may ask are these the old ways or is it still done this way today? We’ve got apparently 27 “pre-candidates” and I don’t know the names of half of them. Benflis who has been “used” in 2004 is back but we don’t know what guarantees and what role he’s got. Will Bouteflika claim a fourth term? Whatever the questions and the answers, our next president will be chosen before the elections are held… Or am I wrong?