Algeria president drops bid for fifth term

Abdelaziz Bouteflika pictured at his palace in 2017. He has not been seen in public since 2014Image copyright

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Abdelaziz Bouteflika, pictured here in 2017, has not spoken in public since 2014

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has postponed the 18 April presidential elections and said he will not seek a fifth term in office.

President Bouteflika’s candidacy had provoked mass protests across Algeria over the past few weeks.

He has led Algeria for 20 years but has been rarely seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013.

No new date for the election was set. Mr Bouteflika, 82, said a cabinet reshuffle would take place soon.

Algeria’s Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia announced his resignation and was replaced by Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui, the official APS news agency reported.

Mr Bedoui has been tasked with forming a new government, according to APS.

What did Bouteflika say?

“There will be no fifth term,” Mr Bouteflika said in a statement. “There was never any question of it for me. Given my state of health and age, my last duty towards the Algerian people was always contributing to the foundation of a new Republic.”

He had pledged last week that he would step down early if re-elected – but the guarantee failed to placate the thousands of demonstrators.

Algeria had been hit by strikes by teachers and students, as well as shops closing and train services being suspended as thousands took to the streets.

What changed on Monday?

Pressure mounted on Mr Bouteflika to withdraw when more than 1,000 judges said on Monday they would refuse to oversee the planned general election were he a candidate.

Then the military’s chief of staff, Lt Gen Gaed Salah, said the military and the people had a united vision of the future – the strongest indication so far that the armed forces were sympathetic to the protests.

Top clerics had already criticised pressure on them to issue pro-government sermons. “Leave us to do our job, don’t interfere,” cleric Imam Djamel Ghoul, leader of an independent group of clerics, told journalists.

Was Bouteflika’s health a factor?

The president’s announcement came a day after he returned home after a two-week stay in a Swiss hospital, where he has been for treatment since suffering a stroke in 2013.

He has over the years since his stroke become a virtual recluse. His last public address was in 2014, shortly after winning the previous general election.

Many Algerians were concerned about his ailing health, and worried that his death in office during a fifth term might cause dangerous political instability.

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