Algeria's invisible presidential candidate

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Algeria's invisible presidential candidate

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Abdelaziz Bouteflika stood tall 15 years ago. Today it’s a different picture: he has served three presidential terms and suffered one stroke. Officially, the stroke left him unscathed. But in relatively recent video he remains seated.

He has not been seen in public for a year. Therefore, many Algerians were angry that he is standing as a candidate to run in the presidential election once again, for a fourth term. Some clashed with police during protests. On the other hand, although there have been no opinion polls, he is expected to get his wish.

Bouteflika is 77 and not in good health. He has been unable to campaign in person for the election. Others have stood in for him, notably three former prime ministers and several other politicians, criss-crossing the country.

In the minds of many Algerians, Bouteflika stands for continuity.

Ordinary people say: “He represents safety! The safety and stability he gave us is peace!”

The traumas of civil war carnage in the 1990s still mark minds today.

A publicity clip ‘Our oath for Algeria’ evokes that memory, yet several of the artists performing in it have said they regret doing so. They thought it was for the country, but ‘Our oath for Algeria’ is actually Bouteflika’s campaign slogan, and his website is running the video.

In Algeria, as in France and Tunisia, where advanced voting has already begun, feelings toward him range from iron devotion to steely rejection. The fifteen-year claim that the president has kept Algeria safe has worn thin, and is held up for ridicule.

One typically disgusted comment: “Where is he? Non-existent… He’s not governing, that’s certain. It’s not him: the generals are managing Algeria.”

A provocative satirical song getting a lot of play online is called ‘T’es ou Boutef?’

Here are some of the lyrics:

Tell me, how’s he doing?
They tell me ‘don’t worry, he can still talk.’
Others says he’s not moving any more, that he can’t even walk.
Haven’t seen him for a long time, outside or on TV.
Where are you, Boutef?
Boutef, where are you?

Analysts say Bouteflika’s rule has provided so little opportunity for the young that their foremost dream is to leave Algeria.