Algerians head to the polls Thursday for local elections, and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is encouraging the nation’s 23 million eligible voters to turn out in droves.
They’ll be choosing candidates for 48 provincial assemblies and more than 1,500 communities. Thousands of polling stations are ready, while some in nomadic regions began the process at mobile stations on Monday. The local elections are the main tool for civic development, Bouteflika said, and deserve citizen participation.
Yet while his attention is turned to this year’s contests, there’s been much speculation this week about whether the 80-year-old president will run for his fifth term in 2019. Farouq Qusantini, an attorney and advisor to Bouteflika who has known him 30 years, told Algerian news outlet TSA on Saturday that the president wants to run again.
“Last week I met President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. We talked for an hour. This is the fourth time I have met him this year,” said Qusantini, a former head of Algeria’s commission on human rights. “He wants to remain at the service of his country and at his disposal until death.”
Yet the Algerian government quickly countered the report on state-run ENTV news. Bouteflika did not meet with Qusantini, they said, and the claims that he already intends to run again are “a fabrication.”
The National Liberation Front party has consistently said Bouteflika will stand for the 2019 elections unless circumstances intervene or he refuses to do so. The ailing president had a stroke in 2013 and is rarely seen in public, and – with the departure of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe – is now one of Africa’s oldest leaders. He has been in office since 1999 and is the country’s longest running president since independence in 1962.
Image: Bouteflika 2017 file