Algeria's Octogenarian Leader Vows Change in Re-Election Bid

(Bloomberg) -- Algeria’s octogenarian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, announced Sunday that he would seek a fifth term and vowed sweeping reforms, dispelling weeks of uncertainty about his plans.

Bouteflika said he’d work to restructure the country’s “political, economic and social landscape” and amend its constitution in an apparent nod to simmering discontent over the state of the economy and the president’s sweeping powers.

While opponents have said it was time for fresh blood to lead the OPEC member, supporters still credit him with ending the decade-long civil war in the 1990s and have lined up behind the 81-year-old president even though his health has sharply declined since a 2013 stroke.

“I expect Bouteflika will win, without doubt,” said Lamine Boudhae, a political analyst and professor at Algeria’s Setif University. “It’s a closed election now. The other candidates have no chance.”

The run-up to the election in April has been rocky, including a rift in Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front party that led to the resignation of its secretary-general in November. More broadly, Algeria’s oil-based economy has been struggling, with fluctuations in the crude market hindering its ability to address key challenges such as youth unemployment.

While Algeria has avoided much of the unrest that’s gripped neighbors Tunisia and Libya since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, anger over the economic situation has touched off protests in a nation where public demonstrations are uncommon. Critics also want the constitution amended to dilute the president’s authority.

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