Outgoing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he would run for a third term on Thursday.
The declaration was made in a sports arena in the suburbs west of Algiers. Some 5,000 guests – including government members, trade unionists and supporters – attended the president’s address.
Bouteflika took three commitments, including that of pushing further his national reconciliation policy. “I commit to continuing to promote national reconciliation (…) by reconciling Algerians with each other and with their country,” he said, while adding that he would “continue to fight terrorism by all necessary means.”
Algeria’s long-serving president also promised to further develop the country’s economy and announced a new five-year stimulus plan worth 150 billion dollars.
FRANCE 24 spoke to Rafik Hassani, an MP for the opposition Movement for Culture and Democracy (RCD). For him, Bouteflika’s announcement is a non-event: “This is yet another coup after the Nov. 12 attack on the constitution. The president has changed the rules of the game. He personifies the system that brought ruin upon this country. Yet, despite his poor record after two terms, he has the nerve to run again.”
Since a Nov. 2008 constitutional amendment got rid of a cap on the number of successive presidential mandates, Bouteflika can now seek a new five-year term.
Voter turnout at stake
According to Hassani, all bets are closed and Bouteflika will indeed be re-elected on April 9. He fears his re-election may once again plunge the country into chaos. “How could a regime that failed to take advantage of a billion-dollar windfall to help the economy possibly catch up on the time lost over the past decade?” he asks.
According to Fayçal Métaoui, a journalist working with the French-speaking newspaper “El Watan”, the only serious stake is voter turnout. He says the Algerian regime, fearing a boycott, has asked imams to urge people to get out and vote on April 9. “The 2009 election is a done deal,” says Métaoui. “Bouteflika enjoys the full backing of the state’s electoral machine. He was already elected the minute he announced his intention to run.”
Ferhat Mehenni, head of the opposition Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK), is adamant people in his region will boycott the election. Bouteflika didn’t change the constitution for nothing, he adds. “Already in the 2004 presidential election, when Bouteflika fielded a host of candidates that were more or less serious, the vote turned out to be a joke. What will happen this time, with candidates like Louisa Hanoun [head of the Workers’ Party], who are merely puppets?”
Bouteflika, 71, is in poor health. He underwent a kidney operation in the US in 1985. Years later, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and has been on dialysis since his election in 1999.
Presidential candidates have until Feb. 23 to make themselves known. Several opposition leaders have already announced they will boycott the ballot.