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Algeria: Presidential race dominated by Bouteflika health worries - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Supporters of Algerian President Abdelazziz Bouteflika (portraits) gather during a political meeting in the city of Tlemcen, some 600 km west of Algiers, ahead of next month's presidential election. (AFP PHOTO/FAROUK  BATICHE)

Supporters of Algerian President Abdelazziz Bouteflika (portraits) gather during a political meeting in the city of Tlemcen, some 370 miles (600 kilometers) west of Algiers, ahead of next month’s presidential election. (AFP PHOTO/FAROUK BATICHE)

Algiers, Asharq Al-Awsat—Economic, political and security woes are dominating Algeria’s presidential election campaigning, which kicked off on Sunday amid public calls for a boycott in response to sitting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeking an unprecedented fourth term in office.

Bouteflika has not been seen in public since an appearance on state television in early March to announce he would be seeking re-election, and he has not appeared on the campaign trail. There has been public concern over the Algerian president’s health and his fitness to govern since he suffered a mini-stroke in 2013.

Public response to the presidential elections has been lukewarm in the first official week of campaigning after a number of big-name candidates retired from the presidential race following Bouteflika’s announcement. A rare public demonstration took place in Algiers last week, calling for a boycott of the April 17 poll.

Bouteflika dismissed concerns about his health in a letter addressed to the nation on Saturday, in which he said he is set to take part in the April 17 election in response to persistent calls from Algerians.

“The difficulties linked to my health do not appear to disqualify me in your eyes or plead in favor of me giving up the heavy responsibilities which have, in part, affected my health,” the president said.

Ali Benflis, a former prime minister and Bouteflika’s main rival, began his election campaign this week by promising to fight corruption as well as “restore the prestige of the judiciary,” saying it has become a “tool for settling political scores.”

Speaking at a rally in the western city of Mascara, the 69-year old candidate said that if he wins the elections he will form a national unity government tasked with fighting corruption.

“The Algerian people aspire for change and to build a modern state with sovereignty for the people,” he said. Benflis also addressed fears of election fraud, calling on the people of Algeria to “monitor the ballots” to ensure the election is fair.