Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika Re-elected for Fourth Term

Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Photo: Vikoula5 for Wikimedia Commons

Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Photo: Vikoula5 for Wikimedia Commons

On Friday April 18, Minister of the Interior Tayeb Belaïz of Algeria, announced that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been re-elected for a fourth term with 81.53 percent of the vote. Belaïz declared that the Algerian people had elected Bouteflika freely, in a climate of transparency and neutrality.

On election day, Bouteflika submitted his ballot from a wheelchair at the Bachir El Ibrahimi à El Biar school in Algiers. This assistance was necessary following multiple hospitalizations over the last several years. In 2005 during his second term, Bouteflika received care for upper gastrointestinal bleeding at Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris, which is used for high profile patients from France and around the globe. On April 27, 2013 during his third term, he suffered a mini-stroke and was flown again to the Val-de-Grace hospital, where he stayed for nearly three months. Bouteflika returned to Algeria on July 16, but he has remained largely out of the public eye and only slowly returned to the political scene.

Despite doubts regarding his capacity to rule the country, Bouteflika announced last February that that he would represent himself in the elections. This decision was due to his profound disagreement with the army, which plays a major role in Algerian politics.

Due to his ill health – primarily reduced speech and mobility resulting from his mini-stroke – the 77-year-old state leader was unable to run his campaign, leaving his deputies to represent him publicly. Leading up to the election, Internet users did not miss the chance to ridicule the “phantom president,” who was incapable of standing upright and expressing himself in front of his people. Photos and comments about Bouteflika being elected in an armchair circulated around Twitter and social media websites.

On election day April 17, voter turnout was 51.7 percent, compared with a 74 percent turnout in 2009. However, an American embassy document revealed by Wikileaks estimated the voter turnout in 2009 was actually closer to 25 to 30 percent.

Bouteflika’s main opponent Ali Benflis purportedly received 12.18 percent of the vote. However, Benflis is refusing to concede the election, claiming election fraud. Recently, a former wali, or prefect, confirmed these allegations, sparking further debate.

82 year old Khadidja, who chose not to vote, gave an interview in the street, asking, “Why vote?” She went on, “If I had my voting card, I would give my voice to Ali Benflis. But with the fraud … Perhaps my voice will go to Bouteflika. How will I know?”

Despite claims of fraud from the candidates, the Algerian press, and the public, the African Union celebrated the election as relatively successful. In comparison to past elections, the conditions had allegedly improved. The AU did conclude, however, that it would be preferable to have one single ballot in future elections. Many voters cast empty envelopes, blank papers, or ballots naming all six candidates as a way of showing discontentment with all the choices provided.

The evening following the Algerian election results, President François Hollande issued a communiqué to the former French colony congratulating Bouteflika, “The President of the Republic wishes [Bouteflika] success in the accomplishment of his great mission. In the spirit of friendship and respect that exists between the two countries … France sends warm wishes for the prosperity of Algeria. France reiterates its willingness to continue to work with the authorities and the Algerian people toward the deepening of the bilateral relationship, in service of the development of the two countries.”

President Hollande’s words of congratulation may seem optimistic. Yet, while many still question Bouteflika’s capacity to run the country, the Algerian President has a long and successful history of governing.

Bouteflika entered into politics at the age of 25, and became the youngest Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1963. In the late Seventies, he was exiled due to tensions within his party, the Front de libération national (FLN). However, he returned during the Algerian Civil War, which was a key point in the country’s history and is also referred to as the décennie noire, or “black decade.”

Following his election in 1999, Bouteflika developed an image as a man of compromise with a referendum on the law of the “civil concord,” which amnestied the armed Islamists who did not commit crimes during the civil war and who submitted to the authority of the State. The law brought the surrender of thousands of Islamists and a strong decrease in violence. It also established Bouteflika as a symbol of peace and allowed him to win reelection in 2004.

In 2009, the President was re-elected for a second time thanks to a revision of the Constitution that removed the presidential term limit. Two years later, Bouteflika suppressed protests relating to the Arab Spring, as citizens protested the cost of living. He proposed increases in salaries and recognition of independent parties in the hopes of appeasing protestors.

Bouteflika is likely to refrain from nominating a vice president. Nacer Djabi, professor of political sociology at the University of Algiers, believes the President’s ego is too big to share the seat of power. Bouteflika’s younger brother and closest advisor Saïd Bouteflika would be the only viable option if the position were created.

Louisa Hanoune, President of the Algerian Parti des travailleurs (Worker’s Party), recently said of Bouteflika, “There was never a question of designating a vice president … I had the opportunity to discuss it with him. There are parties that speak of it, leaders of political parties that dream of being vice president, people who dream … But him, he never thought of it.”

It is clear that President Bouteflika believes himself to be both mentally and physically capable of governing the country on his own.

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