* Bouteflika plans constitutional reforms if wins
* Measures also proposed to tackle bureaucracy
* Aging leader widely expected to win April 17 vote
By Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS, March 18 (Reuters) - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika plans to amend the constitution to strengthen democracy and introduce reforms to reduce state bureaucracy should he be reelected in next month’s vote, his campaign manager said on Tuesday.
The announcement by former premier Abdelmalek Sellal gave some idea of the campaign platform of the 77-year-old leader, who is widely expected to win another five-year term in the April 17 election despite questions about his health.
Bouteflika has hardly been seen in public since suffering a stroke last year, but has registered his candidacy and Sellal has resigned as prime minister to run his campaign.
“The constitution will be revised to consolidate the system and allow more democracy and more respect for all institutions,” Sellal told Algeria’s major business association at a conference to promote Bouteflika’s election programme.
Sellal gave few details about proposed constitutional reforms or when that would happen. But Bouteflika’s allies have for months touted a possible constitutional reform to create a vice president post to support the president.
Speaking ahead of the start of campaigning on March 23, Sellal also told businessmen Bouteflika would combat “the dictatorship of bureaucracy” to attract investment and give a boost to the OPEC producing country’s oil-reliant economy.
Bouteflika, backed by the ruling National Liberation Front or FLN party, army factions and unions, is credited by loyalists for restoring peace after a conflict with Islamist militants that killed around 200,000 in the 1990s.
The presidency and the military establishment are still the most powerful institutions in Algeria, while the North African state’s parliament role is weak despite a shift to a multi-party system in late 1980s.
Since independence from France in 1962, observers say, Algerian politics has been dominated by FLN elites, business leaders and military generals who tussle for influence behind the scenes, leaving opposition parties on the outside.
With few opposition parties able to challenge him, the president is expected to win easily. But his opponents are questioning whether he is even in good enough health to campaign and govern for the next five years.
A stable election or transition of power in Algeria comes at a sensitive time with neighbours Libya, Tunisia and Egypt still overcoming the instability that followed their 2011 Arab Spring revolts to oust long-term leaders.
Political protests are rare in Algeria, but Bouteflika has also ordered heavy spending from the oil earnings on housing, public services and other basic infrastructure to counter any potential social unrest.
But riots over jobs and subsidised houses are still common, and the economy is heavily reliant on energy due state bureaucracy and a lack of foreign investment in non-oil sectors.
“We will continue to support investments without harming the social gains of Algerians,” Sellal said, defending Bouteflika’s economic programme for the next five years without giving any further details.
“Algeria has suffered a dictatorship of bureaucracy since independence. The five-year plan will strengthen national economy and give a boost to our industrial development.”