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Algeria: Presidential challenger says Bouteflika too ill to run - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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File picture dated December 19, 2012 shows Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika arriving to welcome French President at the airport in Algiers (AFP PHOTO/BERTRAND LANGLOIS)

File picture dated December 19, 2012 shows Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika arriving to welcome French President at the airport in Algiers (AFP PHOTO/BERTRAND LANGLOIS)

Algiers, Asharq Al-Awsat—Algerian presidential candidate Mohamed Al-Taher has said he expects President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to win a record fourth term in office if he stands in the forthcoming elections scheduled for April 17.

But in comments to Asharq Al-Awsat this week, he also raised doubts about the ailing president’s physical capabilities of handling the rigors of office.

Taher, a retired Algerian Navy commander, criticized the election process, saying that “preparations for the election are underway on the basis of ensuring the success of the candidate of the ruling wing, in order to ensure their continuation in power, regardless of the cost to the country.”

His criticism comes following a series of decisions taken by Bouteflika to secure his grip on power, including a controversial government reshuffle last year, in addition to a 2008 constitutional amendment abolishing a two-term limit on presidential terms.

Commenting on whether the Algerian army will ultimately have the final say on who becomes president, Taher said: “The constitution is clear in this regard. The army has specific duties limited to protecting national security and preserving Algeria’s sovereignty. On this basis, it should not get involved in political issues, and it would be illegal for it to get involved in the electoral process.”

“Members of the military must demonstrate neutrality and cannot publicly announce their political views, but this does not prevent them from voting for whichever candidate they support in the elections,” he added.

Taher, who is challenging Abdelaziz Bouteflika at the forthcoming presidential elections, criticized the sitting president, saying that even if he does not run in the elections he is seeking to “impose a successor of his choice on the country.”

Bouteflika, 76, suffered a mini-stoke last year, spending a significant amount of time in Paris for medical treatment. He returned to Algiers and, despite initial reports that he was suffering from partial paralysis and would retire, sought to strengthen his grip on the presidency, curbing the powers of the country’s security services and appointing allies to key ministries.

There is a general consensus in Algeria that Bouteflika will either seek a fourth presidential term himself, or back a successor to ensure his supporters keep their grip on power.

Taher told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Since Bouteflika won his second term in office in 2009 he has been seeking to impose a presidential successor on the country. He has not done this until now, and he is not convinced about the people who are close to him and does not believe that they are capable of holding the presidency.”

Former Algerian Finance Minister Ali Benouari is also seeking to unseat Bouteflika. In previous comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said: “It is impossible for Bouteflika to run for the presidency. His health would not allow him to.”

Earlier this week, three former Algerian ministers called for Bouteflika to not stand for another presidential term, issuing an unprecedented public statement saying the president is too infirm to run again and calling for a boycott if he does seek a fourth term in office.

Former Foreign Minister Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, former Transport Minister Rachid Beyelles, and honorary president of the League for Defense of Human Rights Ali Yahia Abdenour all called on Bouteflika not to run.