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.


Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 48 min 42 sec ago
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Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.