London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Dozens of Algerian presidential candidates have dropped out of the race after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika officially submitted his nomination earlier this week. The candidate registration deadline expired on Tuesday at midnight.
Bouteflika made a rare public appearance on Monday to officially register for the forthcoming presidential elections, making his first public remarks since he suffered a mini-stroke in 2013.
Official footage of his registration and pictures of the ailing president only showed him in a seated position, with many in Algeria questioning his physical health. Bouteflika is running for an unprecedented fourth term in office.
A number of presidential candidates announced that they would be withdrawing their candidacy following Bouteflika’s controversial decision to run, claiming that any polls that include the ailing president would be unfair.
Former Prime Minister Ahmed Benbitour withdrew his candidacy, describing the forthcoming vote as “piracy with legal backing,” according to local news. Retired General Mohand Tahar Yalsa also announced that he will not be participating in the elections, claiming that the polls will be “rigged” to secure Bouteflika’s reelection. Taher had previously raised doubts about the ailing president’s physical capabilities of handling the rigors of office.
The Algerian president’s main electoral rival, former Algerian Prime Minister Ali Benflis, vowed to stay in the race and criticized the “dirty maneuvers that aim to steal the people’s vote.”
During a press conference on Tuesday, Benflis said: “Algerians should not be subject to bargaining and fear. They should not accept their will being directed in another direction.”
In an earlier official statement from his office, Benflis said: “I have taken the decision to participate, although I understand the motivations of those who are calling for a boycott and those who have decided against playing an active role in the politics of our country because they are outraged by the attitudes of scorn and arrogance,” in reference to Bouteflika seeking a fourth term in office.
In previous comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, a political activist close to the Benflis campaign confirmed that the former prime minister considers “the game to be over if the president is nominated.”
Local media reported that dozens of presidential candidates have pulled out of the election race, with some reports putting the figure at around 100. Protests against Bouteflika were reported outside the constitutional council in Algiers.