Algeria’s fifth leader since 1999, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is clinging on to power despite his presidency having faded, and being rarely seen in public after suffering a stroke in 2013, and being confined to a wheelchair.
He came to power in 1999 with the support of the army that was battling Islamist guerrillas. He ran unopposed for the presidency in polls later the same year, and has been re-elected since 2004, with an official tally each time of more than 80% of the vote.
He is insisting on clinging on power and the 81-year-old president announced on February 10th that he will run for another term in the April presidential polls. This is despite Algerians announcing protests against the move, and uncertainty about his fitness to stay in office.
Bouteflika’s top challengers are former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, the runner-up in 2014 and today’s main opposition candidate, the influential retired General Ali Ghediri, and the leader of a moderate Islamist party, Abderrazak Makri.
Leadership Succession Stages
Abdelaziz Bouteflika was born on 2 March 1937 in Oujda, French Morocco. A son of a Zawiya sheikh, Ahmed Bouteflika, Abdelaziz memorized the Qur'an at young age. He was promoted after joining the Algerian Liberation Army (ALN). In 1960, he was assigned with leading the Malian front in the Algerian south, when he became known with his revolutionary name of Abdelkader al-Mali, which has survived until today.
Bouteflika was minister of foreign affairs from 1963 to 1979. As president, he led the initiative to end the bloody Algerian civil war in 2002, and he ended emergency rule in February 2011.
After Algeria’s independence, Bouteflika became minister of foreign affairs in 1962. He continued in the post until the death of president Boumédiènne in 1978.
In 1981, he was sued for having stolen Algerian embassies' money between 1965 and 1979. But he managed to skip the scandal of having fraudulently taken 60 million dinars during his diplomatic career, after he was granted an amnesty by president Chadli Bendjedid.
Following Boumédiènne's unexpected death, Bouteflika was seen as one of the main candidates to succeed the powerful president. He was reassigned the role of minister of state, under president Chadli Bendjedid, but successively lost power as the new regime marginalized old officials.
After six years of exile abroad, the army brought him back to the central committee of the National Liberation Front (FLN) in 1989. In 1992, the army took power and scrapped elections that were about to bring the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front to power. This triggered a civil war that would last throughout the 1990s. During this period, Bouteflika stayed on the sidelines. In January 1994, Bouteflika is said to have refused the army's proposal to succeed the assassinated president, Mohamed Boudiaf, later he claimed that if he had agreed to the presidency offer, the army would not grant him full control over the armed forces.
In 1999, president Liamine Zéroual unexpectedly stepped down and announced early elections. Bouteflika ran for president as an independent candidate, supported by the military. He was elected with 74% of the votes, according to the official count. He won with 81% of the vote, but this figure was also disputed by opponents.
He served as the president of the United Nations General Assembly for a term in 1974.
In November 2012, he surpassed Chadli Bendjedid as the longest-serving head of state of Algeria.
Health Rumors and Facts
Bouteflika has had a long battle with illness and frequently flown to France for treatment.
In 2008, a leaked diplomatic cable revealed that he had developed stomach cancer. The Algerian president was admitted to a hospital in France on 26 November 2005, reportedly suffering from a gastric ulcer haemorrhage, and discharged three weeks later. However, the length of time for which Bouteflika has remained virtually incommunicado, led to rumours that he was critically ill with stomach cancer. He checked into the hospital again in April 2006.
As of early 2016, Bouteflika has not been seen in public for more than two years, raising questions over who is in command. Several of his close associates have not seen him for more than one year. It was alleged he can hardly speak, and is said to communicate by letter with his ministers.
Staying away from public appearance, Bouteflika feared a soft coup could take place against him. So, he decided on a purge of the intelligence service, and jailed top army generals, replacing official, Mohamed Mediene, nicknamed Toufik, who headed the intelligence service for 25 years. Mediene was known for being the fighter in the shadows for Bouteflika’s presidential bids.