Algiers — Just three months from the Algerian presidential election, Prime Minister Abelmalek Sellal is increasingly being touted as the likely successor to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Bouteflika, who has been debilitated by illness, has not yet revealed his intention to compete in the April 17th race.
But to some observers, the prime minister's increasingly important role on the political stage makes him appear a likely candidate.
Sellal has been travelling back and forth across the country for several months, visiting some thirty wilayas. He plans to visit the others soon.
During these visits, Sellal has been allocating government funds, meeting civil society representatives and making pledges to improve the lives of Algerians.
These trips have not gone unnoticed by the opposition, which has accused the prime minister from the outset of running a pre-election campaign for the post of president and denounced what it called "the man's personal electoral ambitions".
Since his return to Algeria after a lengthy hospital stay in France, Bouteflika has withdrawn from the public spotlight, allowing greater visibility for his premier.
Abdelmalek Sellal has been handling most diplomatic tasks, holding meetings with local officials, conducting foreign visits, and making speeches about government initiatives and policy.
"The goal of the electoral campaign that the prime minister embarked upon was initially to support a fourth term of office for Bouteflika, but due to the president's state of health, Sellal has taken things to the next stage by talking about himself as the guarantor of peace and stability in the country, " Jil Jadid party chief and presidential candidate Soufiane Djilali told Magharebia.
"Who will be president, Sellal or Bouteflika?" asked Abderezzak Mokri, the head of moderate Islamist party Movement of Society for Peace (MSP). This is difficult to answer, he said, given the president's silence.
"In any case, Sellal is cultivating his own political image and getting ready to play an important role in Algerian politics," the MSP chief added.
Fellow Islamist party El Adala questioned Sellal's motivation for his multiple wilaya visits.
"Political ethics dictate that the prime minister stop touring the country and stop allocating budgets for purely electoral purposes," the party said.
The prime minister does not have the backing of the biggest party in government - the National Liberation Front (FLN).
"Bouteflika is the party's one and only candidate for the presidential election," FLN head Amar Saadani said on January 1st. "The FLN will not support any candidate if Bouteflika does not take part in this election," he asserted.
Saadani even described the prime minister as a "bad sport when it comes to politics".
But the prime minister has loudly denied any electoral motive behind his visits to different provinces, saying that they only aimed at identifying problems and addressing remedies.
On the Algerian street, uncertainty reigns.
"I think everything will depend on Bouteflika's decision. If he wants to seek another term of office, Sellal will have no role, but if not, the prime minister could play a part in the presidential election in April," Algiers resident Ilham Bouteldji told Magharebia.
"The suspense has lasted too long," complained Said Tamani, a public-sector worker. "With three months to go before the presidential election, Algerians have the right to know who their candidates will be."