Algeria's Bouteflika offers reforms to skeptical opposition

ALGIERS Thu May 15, 2014 12:54pm EDT

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika claps during a swearing-in ceremony in Algiers April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika claps during a swearing-in ceremony in Algiers April 28, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Louafi Larbi

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ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, newly re-elected despite suffering a stroke last year, has proposed a raft of reforms including setting a two-term presidential limit and delegating more authority to the prime minister, a government source said on Thursday.

Bouteflika, 77, won last month's election to secure his fourth five-year term, despite his opponents' arguments that his fragile health undermined his ability to govern.

His frailty has raised questions about who might succeed him in Algeria, a major gas supplier to Europe and a key ally in Washington's fight against Islamist militancy in the Maghreb region of North Africa.

Analysts said the proposed reforms may be aimed at easing worries over a potential transition should Bouteflika become unable to finish his new term. A previous two-term limit was removed to allow him to run for a third term five years ago, when he won a landslide victory.

The government source said the 47 proposed amendments included lifting controls on the media and giving parliament more ability to question government officials.

The source said the draft was handed to political parties, which have been invited to debate the reforms in June before they go to a constitutional committee for review and then probably to a referendum for final approval.

"Invitations have been sent to partners in the process of the constitutional revision," APS state news agency said.

APS said details of the proposals from a panel of experts would be released on Friday, but the source said the government had dropped a previous idea of creating a vice president's position to help Bouteflika administer his fourth term.

His ally Abdelmalek Sellal was reappointed prime minister after the election, having briefly stepped down to campaign on behalf of the president.

SPLIT OPPOSITION

Politics in the OPEC state have been mostly dominated since the end of French colonial rule in 1962 by the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) and the army.

Most of its opposition leaders - including secular and Islamist rivals - have already rejected Bouteflika's proposal they join the debate, dismissing the invitation as a move to co-opt them rather than an attempt at real reform.

"Two years ago, the regime called us to make proposals for a new constitution. They did not take into consideration any of our suggestions," Abderazak Mokri, leader of the moderate Islamist party MSP, said this week. "This new invitation is just another way to fool the opposition."

But the opposition parties, which mostly boycotted the April election, are split over how to challenge a political system they say is controlled by the FLN, its political allies and business elites who support the status quo.

Bouteflika enjoys support among those Algerians who believe a fourth term is a guarantee of stability in a country still traumatized by a decade-long 1990s war with armed Islamists that killed more than 200,000 people.

That experience has left a deep mark on Algerian society, where many are wary of upheaval and see the turmoil after the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions in their North African neighbors as a risk for their country's own stability.

(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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