The sacking of reforming energy minister Chakib Khelil and the demotion of liberal-minded Abdelhamid Temmar, who was responsible for privatisation, marks a victory for the traditional elite in the long-running tug of war for control of policy in President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s government.
Frustration is mounting among a population that is struggling against double-digit unemployment
Behind the cover of a corruption investigation at a number of ministries, and most notably at state energy company Sonatrach, the security services have successfully pressured Bouteflika to drop some of his closest allies. Although Noureddine Zerhouni, another Bouteflika adherent, will hold the impressively titled post of deputy prime minister, the role will mean less authority for the former interior minister.
As Bouteflika’s personal clique loses power, the scales are balanced by an increase in the authority of the prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, whose star is rising. Ouyahia may now be positioning himself as the army-sponsored candidate to replace Bouteflika when the he finally stands down, or is pushed out.
The concern is that while all this political manoeuvring is taking place, the economy is floundering. Bouteflika is increasingly portrayed as an absentee leader, cabinet meetings are rarely held, and parliament has long been stripped of any real authority. The details of the 2010-14 economic plan, worth $150bn, were only agreed in cabinet in late May, almost six months after the budget was agreed.
Frustration is also mounting among a population that is struggling against double-digit unemployment, low wages and inflation of more than 5 per cent. In recent months, teachers, health workers, railway workers and civil servants have all taken action in an effort to improve working conditions. If the government is to prevent a escalation of civic unrest, it must quickly turn its attention from politics to the pressing economic needs of its population.