Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been re-elected for a fourth term. But the 77-year-old is seriously ill and barely able to communicate. Doubts over whether he is still able to lead his country are growing.
The supporters of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika drove through the streets of Algiers, the Algerian capital, on the news of his re-election. They climbed on top of vehicles, dancing, drumming and playing trumpets, while other set off fireworks.
Supporters began celebrating Bouteflika's fourth term even before the results of the presidential election, held Thursday (17.04.2014) were confirmed. The 77-year-old has already been in power for 15 years - and will now lead the government for another five.
According the official election results, Bouteflika was re-elected with 81.5 percent of the vote. Algeria's interior minister, Tayeb Belaiz, said that every second person cast a ballot - even though many polling stations appeared to remain empty on Thursday. Few Algerians believe the election was free and fair, and opposition parties and political figures called for a boycott ahead of the vote because they feared massive election fraud.
Ahmed Benbitour also doubts the legitimacy of the election. The former prime minister originally announced his candidacy for president early this year, but ultimately decided against running when he heard that Bouteflika was planning his fourth term. "I withdrew my candidacy shortly before the election campaign began," explained Benbitour. "I realized that that the game had already been decided."
Benbitour said that for health reasons, Bouteflika should not have been allowed to run again. The Algerian president has been sitting in a wheelchair since suffering a stroke more than a year ago, and is barely able to communicate. His election campaign was run by others; the president gave not one single speech.
As for governing - out of the question, said Faycal Metaoui, a journalist with the daily El Watan newspaper. "You can't ask a sick man to guarantee the stability of the country. That's not normal!," he said, outraged. "Bouteflika is simply there to give the power a face. He's the president, but he just sits there like a piece of furniture. In fact, it's the army which has been guaranteeing the country's stability."
Bouteflika is now merely seen as the head of an opaque political machine that has been running the show since Algeria gained its independence in 1962. Algerians still haven't rebelled, mainly because they still remember the "dark decade" of the brutal civil war in the 1990s.
In 1992, the military stepped in to prevent an electoral victory by the Islamists in parliamentary elections. This pushed the country into civil war, and hundreds of thousands lost their lives.
The fact that most Algerians still clearly remember this trauma prevented them from forcing a change of government in the wake of the Arab Spring - especially since it was Bouteflika who, after the war, was able to curb the terror and cautiously modernize the country. But that process has stalled in recent years. Despite being rich in oil and gas reserves, Algeria still struggles with numerous problems.
Bouteflika's main election rival, former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, was able to mobilize thousands of voters in recent weeks. During the election campaign he promised Algerians an independent judiciary, a free society and to step up the fight against corruption. But the country will probably be dealing with these problems for some time yet. According to the official election results, Benflis was able to pick up just 12 percent of the vote - the best result among Bouteflika's challengers.