Algerian presidential elections and likely another term of Bouteflika's reign

Algerian presidential elections and likely another term of Bouteflika's reign
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has decided to run for a fifth presidential term, despite the 82-year-old's deteriorating health.
3 min read
21 February, 2019
Bouteflika rarely appears in public after suffering a stroke in 2013 [Getty]
On February 2, Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia put an end to speculation surrounding the rumoured candidacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April's presidential elections.

Ouyahia confirmed Bouteflika was going to "announce running for president in a letter to the Algerian people".

Hours later, the coalition parties led by the National Liberation Front, known by its French acronym FLN, had all declared their support for the 82-year-old president who has been in power for almost two decades.

The coalition parties "decided to nominate the Mujahid Abdulaziz Bouteflika as a candidate for the elections in appreciation of his wise, unerring decisions and in praise of the important achievements Algeria has achieved under his leadership", their statement read.

Bouteflika's success with the post war reconciliation plan when he first became president won him popularity among the Algerian people. He had inherited a deeply divided nation after a deadly civil war that has been referred to as "the black decade".

The start of his reign also happened to coincide with a rise in oil prices during the Iraq war, keeping Algeria away from the social conditions that became fertile ground for the Arab Spring.

However, after he has suffered a stroke in 2013, Bouteflika has rarely appeared in public, except for occasional state visits of foreign leaders. With his health in question, opposition and other independent candidates have been handed a boost in running for president in this rich-oil state, known for its neutral political stance.

According to the Algerian Ministry of Interior, 32 candidates have presented their nominations. But this carnival seems limited and without any serious threats to Bouteflika's rule, except perhaps for only one candidate, a former general who stands a slightly better chance than the other likely "also-rans".

Ali Ghediri, a former head of human resources at the Algerian Ministry of Defence, has been holding media conferences and interviewed by national newspapers. Ghediri claims that he came "as a reformist to unite the Algerian people".

The retired general says it is essential "to have the right to adopt a different point of view - but not the right to become enemies", as he told reporters in Algiers.

Other renowned figures include the head of the Society for Peace, which has leaned towards the official opposition after becoming alienated from the governing parties. Abderrazak Makri is seen by many here as an Algerian version of a Muslim Brotherhood candidate - but has yet to prove his influence as the party struggles to come up with a plan to compete against the sweeping majority of the FLN-affiliated groups.

The FLN is planning a mass rally on Saturday to invite all former members of the party and its affiliates to re-join in the following week.

The fierce campaign and sensitive timing with which the FLN revealed Bouteflika's candidacy may well make the elections a foregone conclusion. The party has a nation-wide base and hold a majority in parliament - plus the names who have so far dared to throw in their cards against the aging incumbent have yet to fully unify into a single opposition.

Habibulah Mohamed Lamin is a journalist formerly based in the Western Sahara refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. He has worked as a translator and is director of Equipe Media Branch, a group of media activists covering Western Sahara. His work focuses on the politics and culture of the Maghreb.

Follow him on Twitter: @habibullahWS