Algeria’s next presidential election will be held on April 17, the country’s long-time president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, announced in a decree on Friday. But with the vote now just three months away, it is unclear who the candidates will be.
Bouteflika has yet to say whether or not he intends to seek a fourth five-year term. The 76-year-old suffered a stroke last April, forcing him to be rushed to hospital in France. Following his return to Algeria months later, he only made the occasional public appearance. Earlier this week, Bouteflika returned to France for four days to undergo routine check-ups, fuelling further speculation about his deteriorating health.
The uncertainty before the vote in April comes at a sensitive time in North Africa, as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya continue to struggle with their respective transitions to democracy after popular uprisings ousted their veteran leaders in 2011.
Algeria has been led by the same generation of politicians ever since the country won its independence from France in 1962. Bouteflika, a veteran of the Algerian War, took over the presidency in 1999, and has dominated the country ever since.
The lack of clarity over whether he is running has kept others from announcing their candidacies, as valuable campaign time slips away. And the longer Bouteflika waits, the less time they will have.
“It’s the first time since the establishment of political pluralism in Algeria that the candidates ... aren’t known on the eve of the convocation of the electoral body,” said Mohammed Saidj, a political analyst at University of Algiers.
Bouteflika’s own political party, the National Salvation Front, insists he will seek re-election, but his health has prompted analysts to surmise that he may be forced to hand power to a successor.
“Algeria today needs a president who possesses all his mental and physical faculties to deal with the national and regional context,” Abderrazzak Mukri, the leader of the Islamist opposition alliance, told The Associated Press. “Those pushing him to run are irresponsible and only see their own interests and not those of the nation.”
If Bouteflika decides not to run, that would open up the field to a new generation of political leaders and a degree of uncertainty in a country that clings to stability after a civil war in the 1990s claimed the lives of 200,000 people.
“His entourage knows he is in no state to be a candidate,” said analyst Rachid Tlemcani, who described talk of Bouteflika running again as a “bad joke.” “But it continues to perpetuate the confusion to prevent the real candidates from emerging.”
The most prominent of such challengers is Ali Benflis, a former prime minister and former head of the powerful FLN governing party. He has set up campaign committees in several provinces, but refrained from announcing his candidacy. His aides now say he will officially enter the race on Sunday.
Another former prime minister, Ahmed Benbitour, announced his candidacy weeks ago but lacks strong support. A few others declared they will contest the election, but they have not been taken very seriously.
Bouteflika’s silence over whether he plans to run, however, has most clearly benefitted the country’s current prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal. Since Bouteflika’s stroke, Sellal has often been in the spotlight, crisscrossing the country on a series of high-profile trips to inaugurate government projects. He has also had to assume greater responsibilities.
“If Bouteflika is not thinking of standing again, he will certainly want to influence the final choice of his successor,” said Hugh Roberts, a long-time expert on North African politics at Tufts University. “It is striking that functions normally performed by the president have been taken over by Sellal in recent months.”
Any delay in announcing Sellal’s candidacy could be due to behind-the-scenes negotiations with the military to gain his acceptance, as well as immunity for Bouteflika and his associates in the event he steps down.
With one exception, all of Algeria’s presidents have either died while in office, or been forced out by a coup.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
Date created : 2014-01-17