Amid Confusion Algeria’s Ailing President Seeks a Fifth Term

President Bouteflika, 81 and seriously infirm, would still claim a fifth term next April as he is backed by many within the political spectrum.

Although critically enfeebled, Algeria’s current president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, will be running for a fifth term in the upcoming presidential elections set to take place in April. The announcement was made by the country’s state news agency APS on Sunday, Feb. 10, a day after the ruling party F.L.N. declared Bouteflika as its official candidate.

F.L.N. had made allusions about Bouteflika’s prospective run previously in October, but the claim had been made light of outside the political spectrum, and was rather seen optimistic as the ailing president was hardly believed to linger on.
President Bouteflika, who would be 82 by the elections’ time, is yet not the eldest state leader in the world. Not even in Africa —his neighboring Tunisia bears a 92-year-old Essebsi. However, the majority of Algerians do not seem to contest their president’s age, but rather call into question his ability to govern.

Bouteflika’s last public speech dates back to 2012, a year prior to a stroke he underwent and which had left him impaired for the most part. Scarcely able to speak and moving only very little while confined to a wheelchair, he had made less and less public appearances afterward —all of which were broadcasted on national television for short moments only.

Since the country’s independence from France in 1962, the Algerian Constitution was subject to a number of erratic redrafts, suiting willful leaders who would wind up either dead or deposed. President Liamine Zeroual, who preceded Bouteflika, had limited the number of permissible consecutive terms to two only (five years long each).

But in 2008, while seeking an illegitimate additional stay, President Bouteflika had called on the parliament, which is largely loyal to the presidency, to cancel the restraining law and ratify a new one allowing him to run for additional terms. He soon argued that it was all the more his “people’s right” to “renew their confidence” in their leader.

In 2014, following the stroke, he ran for a fourth term in complete absentia, racking up %81 of the vote without even partaking in his own campaign. The 2014 presidential vote was deemed largely dubious and marked a sharper objection toward Bouteflika.

President Bouteflika had known his heyday when he was once regarded as a national hero following his first election in 1999: he led a number of social reforms —public works, subsidies and benefits— and was credited with restoring peace by means of the National Amnesty program he had instituted in the wake of the Algerian Civil War that had left some 200.000 deaths during the 1990s.

Many suggest today, however, that the amnesty program was rather a connivance with radical Islamism, and that the economic reforms came about in virtue of the rise in oil prices. In fact, Bouteflika remains blamed of making Algeria greatly dependent on energy revenues, which still constitutes over %90 of its exports’ income.

Amid the 2013 significant fluctuation in prices and following the slow end of the oil bonanza, the country’s foreign exchange revenues had dropped by almost $100 billion. The unemployment rate, for its part, decreased during Bouteflika’s presidency as a whole, but remains as high as %28 among youth.

Algeria bears some 42 million inhabitants, %45 of whom are less than 25 years old. The majority of this number have known no presidents other than Bouteflika, whose presidency also knew significant rates in emigration.

With seldom chances of return, an alarming number of students are leaving the country to study abroad each year —especially in France which currently holds over 30.000 Algerian students. Others among youth flee via tourist visas to numerous Western countries in which they would subsequently overstay, or clandestinely set sail to neighboring Europe by cutting through the Mediterranean Sea.

Though contested among the majority of his people, President Bouteflika is widely backed within the political sphere as well as on an international scale. France has been the first country to support Bouteflika’s latest candidacy, citing a lack of feasible alternatives in governing its notable ally and energy exporter in Africa.

For many, such as the London-based consultancy Energy Aspects, Bouteflika’s fifth term is the “least risky” option as his succession could prove critically pivotal. The country is currently one of the main gas and oil providers to Europe, and plays a key role in countering radical Islamism in the Sahel, notably alongside France and the United States.