ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria's president, who hasn't publicly addressed the country for nearly three years and suffered a stroke last year, will be running for a fourth term in April, his prime minister said Saturday.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 76, left it to Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal to break the news at a press conference in the western city of Oran.
"I announce today the candidacy of the President of the Republic Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the presidential elections of April 17," Sellal said, according to the state news agency.
"Even if he has not completely recovered physically, I can assure you he is in possession of all his mental and intellectual faculties," Sellal added.
The North African nation has the largest land area on the continent, is rich in gas and oil and is a key ally of the West in the fight against terrorism in the region.
Bouteflika is credited with helping to wind down a brutal insurgency by Islamic extremists, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which moved south into Mali, then was uprooted last year in a French-led military intervention.
The announcement of Bouteflika's plan to renew his mandate drew immediate criticism from some quarters, including the main moderate Islamist party, the Movement of Society for Peace, or MSP, which had already said it would boycott the elections.
"With the announcement of this candidacy, the election will be closed," said Zinedine Amri, a top aide to MSP chief Abderrazak Makri. "But the most serious (consequence) is that this choice will condemn Algeria to the status quo of political immobility when what we need is change, a young political class."
The question of whether Bouteflika would run again, despite his obvious health problems, has dominated the country's politics.
In the past few weeks, normally concealed differences among top party and military officials broke into open salvos traded in the media. Some took this to be a sign of that Algeria's political order was breaking down.
Despite regular elections, power in Algeria is in the hands of a small group of powerful generals that rule by consensus.
Since returning from a four-month convalescence in Paris following his stroke, Bouteflika has only appeared rarely on television and always in a wheelchair. He appears to have limited movement on one side of his body.
Despite his apparent infirmity and doubts about his ability to campaign, Bouteflika will likely win the election.
He has a huge contingent of supporters who have been pushing for him to declare his candidacy, notably his powerful party, the National Liberation Front, which had ruled Algeria for nearly three decades.
Many officials and analysts, however, have expressed their doubts about the wisdom of Bouteflika serving another mandate, especially in light of the security challenges, with the Sahel region to the south increasingly unstable.
"Bouteflika's candidacy is, for me, proof that there is consensus at the summit of the state between the different clans, meaning the DRS (military intelligence) and the presidency," said Mohamed Saidj, a political analyst at the University of Algiers. He called Bouteflika's candidacy "an insult to Algeria" expressing concern that the country would be the "laughing stock of nations."