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Bouteflika seeks presidential re-run
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 26 - 02 - 2014

It's been almost three years since Algeria's President, Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika, addressed the nation. At 77, his ailing health is public news and yet according to Prime Minister Abdel-Malek Sellal's recent announcement, he's planning to run in the April presidential elections for a fourth term in power.
Bouteflika made his decision in “response to the encouragement of citizens from all over the country”, Sellal said.
The announcement ended months of speculation on the president's future plans in power, after suffering a stroke last year and frequent long trips to France for medical treatment. He has rarely been seen in public since.
“Even if he has not completely recovered physically, I can assure you he is in possession of all his mental and intellectual faculties,” Sellal added.
On Monday, three opposition parties — the RCD (Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Démocratie) movement, Islamist MSP (Movement for the Society of Peace) party and Ennahda Party — called for a boycott of the elections. “Candidates should retire from this electoral masquerade,” they said in a statement. “There are not the conditions for a free and transparent scrutiny.”
Bouteflika is the longest sitting president in Algeria's history with almost 15 years in power. A veteran of the war of independence from French occupation, he became president in 1999, eight years following the turmoil that plagued Algeria when the army scrapped elections that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win. FIS leaders were sent to prison and splinter groups engaged in a war with the army. The violence resembled a civil war that claimed the lives of 200,000.
By the time Bouteflika came to power the security situation had improved mainly due to the army's capabilities, but no political solution was reached. Yet because he proposed frameworks for national reconciliation his supporters give him credit for restoring relative security and economic stability.
In 2008, Bouteflika consolidated his grip on power by amending the constitution to allow the president to be elected beyond the previously restricted two consecutive terms. And over the years, succeeded in rallying the main political parties around him.
The violence that once marked Algeria's daily life in the 1990s might have subsided relatively in his tenure, but in the meantime, political participation was put on hold and freedom of expression curtailed under tough laws that proscribe prison terms for critics of the government.
But his deteriorating health condition has caused a climate of uncertainty for figures within the ruling oligarchy about their political future. For the first time Algerians are witness to divisions between the presidency and the influential military intelligence service (DRS). Earlier this month the ruling party's Secretary General Amar Saadani, himself the subject of corruption accusations in the past, accused DRS Chief Mohamed Mediene (known as Touefik) of spectacular failure and urged him to resign from his post which he has held since 1992.
The statements seemed to support circulating reports that Bouteflika has been working on curbing Mediene's power by sacking or transferring top military generals last year. While Saadani accused Mediene of inciting rifts within the FLN (National Liberation Front) — already divided over Saadani himself — critics say that Bouteflika and his powerful aides have caused divisions within the military.
But an attempt to put an end to this squabble, Bouteflika took the military's side in a message of condolence to victims of a military plane crash two weeks ago. “No one has the right, whatever his position, to attack the People's National Army or other state institutions,” he said.
It's not clear if Bouteflika privately supports Saadani's move, but the controversy prompted Hichem Aboud, a former DRS officer turned columnist, to publicly accuse the president's brother, the powerful Said Bouteflika, of flagrant corruption.
And on 12 February Hussein Ben-Hadid, a retired senior general, launched a scathing attack on Bouteflika whom he said should “retire with dignity and let Algeria catch its breath”. In a newspaper interview, Ben-Hadid said the country's stability cannot be guaranteed by someone who “can't talk or stand up” and is a “hostage of his entourage”.
He also described Bouteflika's hand picked army chief as “lacking in credibility and disliked” within the military.
So while the chain of revolts of the Arab Spring in neighbouring countries barely touched Algeria with its weak opposition and the burden of a civil war not too long ago, the oil-rich country might be set for change caused by the erosion of Bouteflika's power structure.
His re-election is a foregone conclusion, but his declining health is an inevitability that Algeria's centres of power are observing and preparing for.


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