* Bouteflika allies shoring up support for new term
* Deadline on March 4 for announcing election candidacy
* Military intelligence chief influence seen waning
By Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS, Feb 3 More than two dozen Algerian
political parties have given their support for a fourth term for
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has yet to announce whether
he will run again just two months before the election.
Bouteflika, 76, suffered a stroke early last year before
returning to work amid speculation over his ability to seek
re-election in Algeria, a key gas supplier to Europe and a U.S.
partner against Islamist militants in North Africa.
Allies in the ruling FLN party say Bouteflika is their only
candidate as the man who helped bring stability to Algeria after
a civil war in the 1990s. But the deadline to officially
register his candidacy is March 4, according to electoral law.
The list of Bouteflika's backers for re-election expanded
this week, and now includes two ruling parties FLN and RND, 26
smaller parties led by transport minister Amar Ghoul, most of
the country's unions, and Rabah Brahimi, of the FDL party.
Most of those are political movements already allied with
the FLN, a signal Bouteflika's backers may be strengthening
their position before his official announcement.
Should he announce he will run again, Bouteflika, who has
governed Algeria since 1999, will almost certainly win due to
the FLN nationalist party's dominant role and his backing from
the party's machinery and its allies.
Opposition parties are still weak and most Algerians have
little appetite for upheaval after the civil war with Islamist
militants that killed around 200,000 in the 1990s.
"I will vote for him dead or alive because he has done so
much for the country," FDL's Brahimi told a TV programme in
comments, that surprised Algerians.
Bouteflika returned home few weeks ago from a visit to a
Paris hospital for check-ups, fuelling speculation he may be
preparing to step side and pass on to a successor, such as his
current Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.
The Algerian leader who has made few public appearances
since returning after his stroke, met for two hours on Sunday
with the new Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, according to
state news agency APS.
CURBING THE GENERALS?
If he steps aside or cannot run, his successor to run for
election will likely be chosen in backroom negotiations between
Algeria's political elite and military intelligence who have
governed behind-the-scenes since 1962 independence.
A possible handover of power by Bouteflika has raised
uncertainty in Algeria at a turbulent time for North Africa,
with Egypt and Libya still struggling through transitions after
uprisings ousted veteran autocrats in 2011.
One source from Bouteflika's inner circle told Reuters on
Monday that "the apparatus has been set in motion", to confirm
that the aging leader will run despite a poor health.
But observers say the head of the DRS military intelligence,
Mohamed Mediene, who long played a kingmaker role in the
internal struggles of Algerian politics, is no longer in such a
strong position to counter Bouteflika.
Sources say Bouteflika's camp has moved to reduce the
influence of the DRS by sacking or transferring top intelligence
generals in recent months, to curb Mediene.
One of Bouteflika's campaign slogans is: "Civilian state
versus military state."
Observers also pointed to some of the first openly critical
comments about the DRS chief from FLN party leader Amar Saidani
on Monday as a signal of Bouteflika's push to curtail Mediene's
influence over Algerian politics.
"He is no longer in a position to say yes or no
to Bouteflika's candidacy in the next presidential election,"
Saidani said, adding that the DRS chief "should have resigned
after a series of failures".
(Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Alison Williams)