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Bouteflika, the ghost president

AFP

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected to a fourth presidential term on Friday despite the fact that poor health kept him off the campaign trail.

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The ailing 77-year-old voted in his wheelchair on Thursday, making one of his first public appearances since May 2012.

His decision to run for another term after 15 years in office was criticized by Algerians who argued that he was no longer fit to govern after suffering a minor stroke last year.

He has also never managed to shake off the pervasive control of the military, despite his determination to reduce its influence and curb the powers of its intelligence heads, who have dominated Algerian politics since independence in 1962.

Credited with ending civil war

But Bouteflika remains popular among many Algerians who say he played an integral role in putting an end to a debilitating civil war that killed at least 150,000 people in the 1990s. He is also credited with making sure Arab Spring demonstrations did not spiral out of control in Algeria.

A veteran of the war of independence against France, Bouteflika came to power in 1999, running unopposed as the candidate of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) after other candidates withdrew, citing fears of electoral fraud.

The military-backed government’s decision to cancel 1991 elections that an Islamist party had been poised to win set off the bloody decade of civil war, in which Islamist insurgents attacked both the military and civilians and abuses were reported by both sides.

Once in office, Bouteflika proposed an amnesty for rebels who laid down their arms and twice secured public endorsement for “national reconciliation” through referendums.

The first, in September 1999, was a major gamble but paid off, leading to a sharp decrease in violence that helped propel Bouteflika to a second term in 2004.

Bouteflika’s third term in 2009 followed a constitutional amendment allowing him to stand again, but the leader’s last few years in office have been hampered by frail health and corruption scandals.

Before this week’s election, Bouteflika vowed to enact sweeping constitutional changes that would create a “broad democracy”.

His supporters argue that he has already done much to spur public and private investment that has created millions of jobs and significantly lowered unemployment.

His detractors point to still-high youth unemployment and decry a lack of opportunity that has prompted many Algerians to seek prosperity abroad.

When the Arab Spring began in January 2011, Algeria witnessed deadly social unrest, and a month later Bouteflika accepted an opposition demand and lifted a 19-year state of emergency. He also dished out pay rises and announced incremental political reforms, including boosting the role of independent parties. The initiatives won little opposition support.

In April last year, Bouteflika was rushed to hospital in France after suffering a mini-stroke, and spent three months recovering.

Despite appearing only rarely on state television because of his compromised physical condition, Bouteflika remained the front-runner in the election from start to finish.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

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