Bouteflika runs for Algeria presidency amid unprecedented suspense

Ailing President succeeds in composing ‘fourth term symphony’

ALGIERS - Secretary General of Algeria’s National Liberation Front (FLN) Amar Saadani said President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is an official candidate for the presidential elections that will be held in April.
“We officially announce that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is an official candidate for the presidential elections,” Saadani told members of the party at its head office in Algiers.
He refused to reveal sources behind these information, saying he is the FLN’s Secretary General and he will not unveil the source.
“Many are expecting the FLN to change its opinion about the elections although it made a final decision in previous official meetings. To eliminate any doubts, I say it once again: Bouteflika is the party’s candidate and it is official,” he said.
Bouteflika called a presidential election for April 17, a day after returning from medical treatment in France, without indicating if he himself would stand.
The leadership contest is likely to be one of the most important in years in the energy-rich North African country, which is a key player in the fight against Islamist militants plaguing the region.
The 76-year-old president has ruled the country continuously since 1999, but has rarely been seen in public since suffering a mini-stroke that confined him to a Paris hospital for three months last year.
He flew back from France on Thursday after an unexpected three-day medical visit which national media described as a "routine check-up."
Bouteflika has never named a favoured successor and has not ruled out the possibility of accepting his nomination by the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) in November to stand for a fourth term despite his failing health.
The uncertainty about his intentions has created a vacuum at the heart of Algerian politics.
Soufiane Djilali, who heads the New Generation opposition party and plans to run for the presidency, accused Bouteflika of deliberately creating the uncertainty -- by travelling to France this week and convening the electoral body at the last minute -- because he wants "to cling to power at any price."
Presidential hopefuls have 45 days to present their candidacies to the constitutional council, which rules on whether they are valid within 10 days.
The electoral law requires each candidate to gather at least 60,000 signatures from supporters across no fewer than 25 provinces, with a minimum of 1,500 signatures from each.
Bouteflika came to power towards the end of the devastating civil war, which killed at least 150,000 people, and twice secured public endorsement for his reconciliation policy that included an amnesty for Islamists who laid down their weapons and led to a sharp decrease in violence.
Amendments to the constitution in 2008 cleared the way for him to run indefinitely.
Since his treatment in Paris last year, Bouteflika appears to have gradually reasserted his control, notably with a wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle in September and the reported restructuring of the powerful DRS military intelligence agency.
But the last decade of his presidency has been overshadowed by health concerns, after he underwent surgery in Paris for a bleeding stomach ulcer in 2005, and with a leaked US diplomatic cable two years later suggesting he might be suffering from terminal cancer.
His rule has also been dogged in recent years by corruption scandals implicating members of his inner circle.