Bouteflika begins fourth term

April 29, 2014 - 3:25:34 am
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (left) takes the oath during a swearing-in ceremony in Algiers yesterday.

ALGIERS: Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was sworn in for a fourth term yesterday after he easily won an election opponents dismissed as unfair and returned to power for another five years.

State television showed Bouteflika, 77, sitting in a wheelchair to take his oath and give his first public speech for at least two years. He suffered a stroke last year that raised questions about his ability to govern.

“I thank the Algerian people for their renewed confidence,” Bouteflika said in a weak, often wavering voice before hundreds of supporters. “The April 17 election was a victory for democracy.”

Under Bouteflika, a veteran of the war that ended with independence in 1962, the Opec producer has become a partner in Washington’s campaign against al Qaeda-linked militancy in the Maghreb and a supplier of about a fifth of Europe’s gas imports.

But Bouteflika’s weak health has left questions about what happens next, who replaces him if he cannot govern for the entire term and how that would affect political and economic reforms and oil investment in the North African country.

The president must name a new government including prime minister and energy minister. The choices may give an indication of the depth of reform proposals.

In the text of his speech, Bouteflika said he would soon start work on “consensual constitutional revision” and called on representatives from civil society and political parties to join the process.

Many Algerians say their country has been governed behind the scenes by rival clans of independence-era leaders from the ruling Front de Liberation Nationale and old-guard army generals who see themselves as guardians of stability.

Six main opposition parties joined forces to boycott the April 17 ballot, saying it was biased in Bouteflika’s favour and offered little chance of change to the status quo. “Is this a president who can resolve problems and meet the people’s aspirations? Can he fulfil his constitutional duties? Lots of questions remain without answers,” said Lakhdar Benkhallaf, a representative of an Islamist party.

Since the stroke that put him in a Paris hospital for three months last year, Bouteflika has appeared only occasionally in public, usually when greeting foreign dignitaries such as US Secretary of State John Kerry just before the vote.

After his return from Paris, sources say, Bouteflika’s allies strengthened his hand by removing several generals to curb the influence of Algeria’s DRS military intelligence service, which has long played a kingmaker’s role in politics.

Diplomats say that backroom tussling for influence among rival political and military clans has defined much of Algeria’s post-independence politics. Appointments to the new government will illustrate how those rivalries are evolving, and how likely broader reforms are, said Geoff Porter at North Africa Risk Consulting.