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Opposition mounts to Bouteflika's fourth presidential bid
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 12 - 03 - 2014

Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika looked every bit the pale and ailing 77-year-old president he is in the brief shots of 3 March taken when registering his candidacy for the 17 April presidential elections, in which he seeks a fourth term in power.
Brief footage of the president, who has rarely been seen in public in the past two years, was broadcast on Algerian TV as he appeared in a limousine on his way to the constitutional council where he registered for re-election, and later seated next to a table as he signed the application documents.
“I came to officially register my candidacy in accordance with Article 47 of the constitution,” he said in a faint whisper.
Twelve candidates have registered for the presidential election, according to the national news agency, APS.
While his appearance for the first time since last summer after suffering a stroke —which required long months of medical treatment in France — was meant to deliver a reassuring message about his health, it did little to dispel concerns and opposition to his fourth presidential bid.
On 7 March, Sid Ahmed Ghazali, a former prime minister before Bouteflika's tenure, told a French channel that all the elections throughout the past 15 years “lacked legitimacy” and therefore there are no guarantees for a fair and free vote this time. He claimed that Bouteflika's health crises dates back to 2005 and not just the past year.
On Monday, hundreds of students in the coastal city of Bejaia, north Algeria, marched in protest at Bouteflika's “bedridden” presidential bid. The students chanted “Bouteflika, Ouyehia, a terrorist government” and “we're sick of this regime,” vowing to organise more protests. According to the French language daily Al-Watan, teaching faculty and students in Bouzaréah University (Algiers) are scheduled to begin a sit-in today (Thursday) against Bouteflika's candidacy and for the “future of Algeria”.
Teachers, professors and researchers from various universities and colleges across the nation are collecting signatures on a statement outlining their position regarding the “political deadlock”, Al-Watan reported Monday.
The scene in Bejaia is a rarity in Algeria where two small demonstrations recently in the capital Algiers were violently broken up by police who arrested dozens.
Bouteflika is the longest serving 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 and claimed the lives of 200,000.
During his long tenure Bouteflika modified the constitution to allow him to be re-elected indefinitely, criminalised free speech and empowered his inner circle, which has been subject to frequent allegations of corruption.
Although he succeeded in rallying the main political parties around him and in taking advantage of a weak opposition to consolidate his grip on power, Bouteflika's declining health ushered unexpected signs of a power struggle between his presidential circle and the intelligence services.
Its also provoking dissent in unlikely quarters such as the Municipal Guards who organised a 200 member strong sit-in in the Bouira province, north central Algeria, on Sunday where they openly opposed Bouteflika's re-election. The Municipal Guards are a 94,000 strong paramilitary force that was part of the military and police corps combating the Islamist insurgency of the 1990s. But as the Islamist threat subsided, so did the need for this volume of guards, many of whom have been forced into early retirement.
“Enough,” said their spokesman Lehlo Elweyat. “We were with Bouteflika in 1999, 2004 and 2009 and now we're against him in 2014.”
The constitutional council will announce the names of the official candidates of the April presidential race next week, but campaigning for Bouteflika, whose victory is a foregone conclusion, has begun.
His most serious contender is former prime minister Ali Benflis, 69, who registered his candidacy a day after Bouteflika, and reportedly deliberately walked 150 metres to the constitutional council in front of media representatives to convey a point about the president's health condition, and his. Speaking to reporters at the constitutional council, the ex-premier questioned the integrity of the election.
And in a statement released by his presidential campaign he said: “I am aware of the political climate affecting [the vote] and of all the dubious manoeuvres it is subject to,” adding that he understands the concerns of those calling for a boycott of the election.
The Islamist-oriented Ennahda, Movement for Society of Peace (MSP) and Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) called the election a “masquerade” and called for its boycott.
This week the Front for Socialist Forces (FFS) — one of Algeria's oldest political parties — said in a statement it won't participate in the election or declare a position on the matter as it's “not really an election”. While it described the boycott option as “respectable”, the statement said doesn't offer much of an alternative and called instead for “rebuilding national consensus” on a set of objectives and a timeframe for a transitional period.
Addressing concerns about the election's fairness, Algeria's Foreign Minister, Ramtane Lamamra, on Sunday announced that the vote would be monitored by international observers, including from the Arab League, Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the African Union.
There is little doubt about Bouteflika's win. He's backed by the powerful National Liberation Front (FLN) and faces no real challenge from the opposition, despite the country's growing economic problems and political deadlock.
Algeria has the 10th-largest reserves of natural gas in the world and is the sixth-largest gas exporter, but its oil and gas production has declined steadily since 2005, according to Forbes. Because 97 per cent of Algeria's exports depend on hydrocarbons, this is causing concern within the energy sector and according to observers will soon deal a blow to the largely state-dominated economy.


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