File Photo: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen in Algiers, Algeria Image Credit: Reuters

Manama: Algeria’s presidential elections will be held on April 18, according to a decree announced on Friday.

Under Algeria’s election rules, the date of the presidential polls has to be announced three months before they are held and the fourth mandate of President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika Bouteflika, who has been at the helm of Africa’s largest country since 1999, ends on April 18.

The decree, signed by Bouteflika, stated that the lists of the voters would be reviewed from January 23 until February 6.

The announcement puts an end to speculations that gripped the North African country for months about whether the elections would be postponed due to the complex internal situation.

However, the announcement does not end the growing battle of nerves between various parties and factions in Algeria over whether 81-year-old Bouteflika should present his candidacy a new term.

Algerians have been wondering whether their president, who has been weakened by a stroke he suffered in 2013 and uses a wheelchair, will seek a fifth term in office despite his age and partial paralysis.

Bouteflika who was re-elected in 2014 despite the stroke is credited by supporters with saving Algeria thanks to a sound policy of reconciliation that brought extremist insurgents back to civilian life and put an end to the deadly acts of terror in the 1990s.

Supporters also heap praise on him for protecting the North African state from the chaos that resulted from the so-called Arab Spring in some Arab countries, mainly Libya and Syria.

However, as Bouteflika has not announced anything about his intention, and amid the ominous uncertainty, several political parties and senior individuals, including recently a retired military general, have penned opinion pieces or made statements to the media, offering suggestions about what should be done to end the crisis.

With some suggestions calling for the military to play a proactive role, the army reacted by insisting that it wanted to keep its neutral stance in the political conflicts and to avoid being dragged by political forces or by independent individuals into playing a prominent role in the country’s political transition and putting an end to the ominous miasma.

“At the approach of the presidential elections, some individuals, driven by excessive ambitions and by devious intentions, are trying, by all means, including the media, to prejudge the positions of the military institution vis-à-vis presidential elections and even arrogate to themselves the right to speak on its behalf,” the army said in its statement.

“By doing so, these embittered and insecure individuals, who do not skimp on the use of the most disloyal means, aim unsuccessfully to influence public opinion and to assemble the credibility they sorely lack. Having found no echoes of their recurrent written interventions, broadcast and published in the media, they claimed for the occasion they were multidisciplinary experts. They were a priori instructed to address the High Command of the National People’s Army, as a last resort.”

These individuals seem to have forgotten that the army’s “immutable principles” make it an institution at the service of only the Algerian people, who sees in it “the unshakable shield” that protects Algeria against all dangers and ensures serenity and tranquility, the army stressed.

“ It is all the more regrettable, that such acts are by some retired military staff who, having served for a long time in the ranks of the army now join occult circles for the sole purpose of satisfying excessive personal ambitions, which they could not achieve within the institution,” the army said.

“Losing the sense of the measure, these individuals give themselves a vocation and a dimension which are not theirs, and launch, without any scruple, unbridled fabrications, resulting from a sickly narcissism that pushes them to pretend to be well acquainted with the High Command of the army and to forecast its position vis-à-vis the presidential elections. This grave drift denotes a worrying threshold of unconsciousness provoked only by blind ambition. In this regard, the National People’s Army, whose approach is dictated by its eminently legalistic and republican character and respectful of the constitutional order, has no lessons to receive from individuals who exist only by the circles that sponsor them.”

According to an Algerian editor, by rejecting all calls to step into the election fever, “the army is keener than ever to distance itself from the backstage games that are poisoning the atmosphere.”

Algerian energy expert Reghis Rabah decried the mess around the next elections and said that people should instead focus on engaging in genuine debates that would help change ideas and approaches.

He warned that Algerians in today’s world had a new character and faced different challenges.

“The Algerians who had been asked for more than 35 years to contribute to building a fair society that would provide him with wages, housing and well-being were overnight asked to rely only on themselves, often in unfair condition. They are now unfortunately faced with a social stratification that is completely turned upside down,” he wrote for Le Quotidien d’Oran.

“They are today confronted with a very rich class that threatens the very existence of the state in which they believed. Disoriented and totally confused, they lost confidence and seem, over time, forced to opt for the social absence. They reject notions of the state, general interest and social morality.”