Algeria sets April election, no word on Bouteflika candidacy

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in office since 1999, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 which bound him to a wheelchair. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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Algeria sets April election, no word on Bouteflika candidacy

  • The 81-year-old leader is unlikely to face competition from within ruling circles

ALGIERS: Algeria on Friday announced a presidential election for April 18 without indicating whether veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika would stand, following calls for his nomination by a loyal ruling caste of businessmen, trade unions and the military.

The 81-year old leader, who has been in office since 1999 and rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, has now 45 days to say whether he wants to seek a fifth term.

Under the constitution the election date was made necessary by the expiry in April of Bouteflika’s fourth term.

Algeria’s ruling coalition and other leading figures in labor unions and the business world had previously urged him to run again for the presidency.

But there have been concerns about his health.

In December, Boutelfika, who has been wheelchair-bound since 2013, was unable to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he came to Algiers for a two-day visit due to acute flu.

His last meeting with a senior foreign official was during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sept. 17. An earlier meeting with Merkel and a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte were canceled.

The North African country, an OPEC oil producer, avoided the major political upheaval seen in many other Arab countries in the past decade but has experienced some protests and strikes. Unemployment, especially among young people, remains high.

The economy has improved over the past year as oil and gas revenues have picked up, allowing authorities to ease austerity measures imposed when they halved between 2014 to 2017. Oil and gas revenues account for 60 percent of the budget and 94 percent of export revenues.

Civil war

Bouteflika’s announcement of the election date will ease concerns that the vote might get postponed, say analysts.

In 1991, the army canceled elections which a conservative party was set to win, triggering almost a decade of civil war that killed some 200,000 people.

“This decision shows that Bouteflika is sticking to the constitution,” said political analyst Arslan Chikhaoui.

Observers say if Bouteflika runs again he is set to win, as the opposition is divided into conservatives and secular parties.

Bouteflika is part of a thinning elite of the veterans who fought France in the 1954-1962 independence war and have run Algeria ever since. Many also credit him with ending the civil war by offering former extremist fighters amnesty.

Bouteflika’s supporters say his mind remains sharp, even though he needs a microphone to speak. The opposition says he is not fit to run again.

He is unlikely to face competition from within ruling circles. Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, leader of the National Rally for Democracy (RND) allied to the FLN, has already said he will not run if Bouteflika goes for a fifth term.

Nobody has yet said they will run against Bouteflika, even though the president has said he wants more competition. He won with 82 percent of the vote in 2014, 90 percent in 2009, 85 percent in 2004 and 74 percent in 1999.

The government has said it wants to diversify the economy away from oil and gas, which accounts for 60 percent of budget finances, but there has been resistance from those within the ruling elite to opening up to foreign investment.

That has left the economy dominated by the state and firms run by business tycoons.

‘I am Algeria’

When he came to power, with the support of an army battling guerrillas, nobody expected him to stay in office for so long.

But “Boutef,” as many Algerians nickname him, was instrumental in fostering peace after a decade-long civil war in the 1990s.

“I am the whole of Algeria. I am the embodiment of the Algerian people,” he said in 1999, the year he became president.

But he has had a long battle with illness and frequently flown to France for treatment.

Known for wearing a three-piece suit even in the stifling heat, he gained respect from many for his role in ending the civil war, which official figures say killed nearly 200,000 people.


Iran, US tension is a ‘clash of wills’: Guards commander

Updated 58 min 45 sec ago
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Iran, US tension is a ‘clash of wills’: Guards commander

  • The commander said they will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for their enemies
  • Tensions between Iran and US escalated after Trump restored sanctions

GENEVA: The standoff between Iran and the United States is a “clash of wills,” a senior commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday, suggesting any enemy “adventurism” would meet a crushing response, Fars news agency reported.
Tensions have spiked between the two countries after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East in a show of force against what US officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.
“The confrontation and face-off of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the malicious government of America is the arena for a clash of wills,” Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri said.
He pointed to a battle during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war where Iran was victorious and said the outcome could be a message that Iran will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for any enemy “adventurism.”
On Sunday, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!“
Trump restored US sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them this month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.
Trump wants Iran to come to the negotiating table to reach a new deal with more curbs on its nuclear and missile programs.
Reiterating Iran’s stance, the spokesman for its Supreme National Security Council said on Thursday that “There will not be any negotiations between Iran and America.”
Keyvan Khosravi was also quoted as saying by the state broadcaster that some officials from several countries have visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States.”
He did not elaborate, but the foreign minister of Oman, which in the past helped pave the way for negotiations between Iran and the United States, visited Tehran on Monday.
“Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said.
In Berlin, a German diplomatic source told Reuters that Jens Ploetner, a political director in Germany’s Foreign Ministry, was in Tehran on Thursday for meetings with Iranian officials to try to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and cool tensions in the region.