| ALGIERS, April 17
ALGIERS, April 17 Algerians vote on Thursday in
an election President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is widely expected to
win after 15 years in power even though he has spoken rarely in
public since suffering a stroke last year.
With the dominant National Liberation Front (FLN) party,
allied movements and unions behind him, Bouteflika, 77, is
almost assured victory and another five years governing the
North African OPEC state.
The results are expected at the earliest on Friday.
The outcome of the election is key for Western governments.
Algeria is seen as a partner in Washington's campaign against
Islamist militancy in the Maghreb and as a stable supplier of
around a fifth of Europe's gas imports.
But concerns about Bouteflika's health and how Algeria
manages any transition have raised questions about stability in
a region where neighbouring Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are still
struggling with turmoil after 2011 Arab Spring revolts.
"He has all the health he needs to carry out his duties,"
said Abdelmalek Sellal, who resigned as prime minister to
campaign for Bouteflika.
Loyalists portray Bouteflika as the man who helped stabilise
Algeria after its 1990s war with militants. After the experience
of that conflict, many Algerians are still wary of political
upheaval, especially with an unstable region around them.
But several opposition parties have boycotted the election,
saying it is slanted in favour of Bouteflika and unlikely to
bring reforms to a system little changed since independence from
France in 1962.
"In case there is fraud I will not shut up," opposition
front-runner Ali Benflis told reporters. "This does not mean we
will push for chaos, because we have opted for stability."
Bouteflika, a veteran of Algeria's war of independence, won
the 2009 election with 90 percent of the vote.
Analysts say that since independence, Algerian politics have
been mostly controlled by a cabal of FLN elites and army
generals who, while competing behind the scenes for influence,
see themselves as guarantors of stability.
Bouteflika's allies have pushed to strengthen his position
by reducing the influence of the powerful military intelligence
chief, who for years played the role of kingmaker in Algerian
Still, analysts say, political rivalries may resurface if
Bouteflika's health ebbs during a fourth term.
Algeria has built up huge foreign reserves from its energy
sales - around $200 billion - and has spent heavily on housing
and social programs to ward off Arab Spring-style protests. But
social tensions over jobs, services and housing are common.
The country also needs reforms to overhaul an economy still
hampered by restrictions on foreign investment and to attract
more heavyweight oil players to help bolster stagnating oil and
(Reporting by Patrick Markey; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)