28 February 2014

Algeria: Bouteflika Fourth Term Stirs Controversy

Photo: Summit Photo
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika arriving at a G8 summit (file photo).

Algiers — Since Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal announced that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika would run in the April 17th election, a debate has gripped the country.

"Algerians do not want to relive the nightmare they experienced during the 1990s. They don't want any more leaps into the unknown or political adventures," Industry Minister Amara Benyounes said on Wednesday (February 26th).

But some observers questioned Bouteflika's ability to govern the country due to his poor health, especially since his public appearances grew scarce over the last few months.

"President Bouteflika is in good health. He has the intellectual capacity and vision needed to guarantee this responsibility," Sellal said on Saturday.

Support for the president also comes from parties and NGOs, including the National Liberation Front (FLN), of which he is honorary president. The National Democratic Assembly (RND) and a few new small parties also back Bouteflika.

FLN spokesman Said Bouhadja stated that his party gladly welcomed Bouteflika's presidential run and would work hard to help him succeed.

The president has launched "an ambitious programme of development for the country and has restored security", he said.

RND Secretary-General Abdelkader Bensalah highlighted Bouteflika's achievements, as well as "the need for stability, which has to be consolidated further".

This enthusiasm is not surprising, since both parties are part of the coalition government.

Meanwhile, Islamists from the Movement for a Peaceful Society (MSP), the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) and Ennahda movement are calling for a boycott of the presidential election.

For his part, Human Rights Defence League former president Ali Yahia Abdenour blamed Bouteflika for Algeria's ills, including unemployment, the fall in spending power and failings in the education sector.

President Bouteflika is "running the country by delegation and proxy, because his serious and long-lasting illness prevents him from exercising all of the powers granted to him by the revised Constitution of 2008", he wrote in a column published by El Watan newspaper.

The country is giving the impression that it is "frozen" and locked in a status quo away from change, whereas everywhere else, "things are moving", banker Ahmed Benamar said.

But for Hocine Merad, a teacher, Bouteflika restored security thanks to the national reconciliation policy and his political success in getting the Islamists on board as part of the government.

This, he says, helped invalidate the arguments of those within the religious opposition who habitually spoke of their frustrations at being "excluded".

For her part, NGO volunteer Samia said that she welcomed the news about Bouteflika's presidential bid because "he is the man who is best able to deal with the nation's problems."

"A new leader is a bit like an adventure. And adventures always cause concern," she said.

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