Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian president, has bowed to public pressure and announced he will not seek a fifth term. In a statement released on Monday night, his office also announced elections scheduled for April would now be postponed.
The decision came after more than two weeks of demonstrations that saw hundreds of thousands of Algerians take to the streets to protest against plans for the ailing president to rule for another five-year term.
Mr Bouteflika, who is 82, was paralysed by a stroke in 2013 that also impaired his ability to speak. He has not been heard by the Algerian public for six years.
In the past two weeks his support base appeared to crumble as businessmen, judges, students, clerics and veterans of the independence war from France said they rejected his candidacy.
More than 1,000 judges in Algeria warned earlier on Monday that they would refuse to supervise the presidential election if Mr Bouteflika ran for office.
Algerians labelled his candidacy an insult and a ploy by an opaque clique to continue to govern in his name.
The president returned on Sunday to Algeria after two weeks in a hospital in Geneva, where authorities said he was undergoing medical checks.
“We announce our intention to abstain from . . . supervising the election process against the will of the people, which is the only source of power,” said the judges in a statement.
The announcement by the judges earned them a rebuke from Tayeb Louh, the justice minister, who was quoted by TSA Algerie, an Algerian news website, saying that “judges have an obligation to maintain their reserve and to distance themselves from anything that could impact their impartiality and their independence”.
Mr Bouteflika had already been abandoned by a national organisation representing veterans of the 1954-1962 war of independence from France — a symbolic loss because that struggle had been the source of legitimacy for successive Algerian regimes.
Some senior businessmen have also distanced themselves from the main trade association representing the private sector, which is headed by one of the president’s cronies. They cited the need to respect the popular mood.
Analysts said before the presidential announcement that the mounting public pressure could force the powerful military to withdraw its backing for the president and work behind the scenes to put in place arrangements for a transition.
Ahmed Gaid Salah, army chief of staff, had said twice during demonstrations that the election would take place in April but on Sunday he adopted a more conciliatory tone towards protesters, saying the military and the people shared a vision for the future.
Additional reporting by Reuters