afrol News, 20 February - Incumbent Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is soon to announce that he will be running for a second five-year term in the 8 April presidential poll, according to Algerian press reports. Mr Bouteflika is however facing a strong contest in ex-Prime Minister Ali Benflis, who won majority support from the ruling party.
While Mr Benflis has been elected the official presidential candidate of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), President Bouteflika yet has to announce his candidature. This, according to Algerian media, however is to happen on Sunday.
So far, Mr Benflis has held an upper hand on the incumbent President due to his surprise nomination by the FLN. President Bouteflika has however begun to strike back. The FLN election process is being contested in court and Mr Bouteflika has gained the backing of his candidacy by two parties and a dissident faction of the FLN.
The two parties now backing President Bouteflika are the National Democratic Assembly (RND) and the Islamic MSP party. The RND is Algeria's second largest party and both are junior members of the national coalition government, headed by the FLN.
After signing a pro-Bouteflika pact earlier this week, the RND, MSP and a growing minority of the FLN are now considering to form a new government. Ahead of Mr Bouteflika's announcement of his candidacy, the parties have established a Joint National Commission to campaign for the President.
The incumbent himself already has begun his election campaign without announcing his candidacy. During the last month, President Bouteflika has travelled around all of Algeria, passing through most prefectures, to present the national budget and his political visions.
But President Bouteflika has also noted severe setbacks during the last weeks, as he increasingly has been characterised as undemocratic and too close to the military in the Algerian public. A recent book that the police tried to stop from being published presents Mr Bouteflika as despotic ad corrupt.
An attempt by the President to reach reconciliation with the Berbers, Algeria's main minority group, also failed. After the government refused to give the Tamazight language equal status with Arabic, Berber political leaders announced they would boycott the 8 April elections. The Berbers make up about one fifth of Algeria's population.
The result of the upcoming poll still remains totally open. While President Bouteflika may count on the votes of the military and older Algerians, his principal opponent, Mr Benflis, is expected to be more popular among younger voters.
The Bouteflika regime has never been very popular among Algerians, and is generally perceived as corrupt autocratic an incompetent. It has nevertheless brought an enhanced security and more economic and political stability to Algerians, who have suffered from a low-scale armed conflict for over a decade. The improvements in security and stability may be a valuable asset for the incumbent.
Mr Benflis, on the other hand, has been able to present himself a man of action and with democratic instincts. His main focus has been on combating the widespread corruption within the civilian administration and the military. Further, he demands that democratic institution be respected and thus wants to cut the powers of the military forces - demands that are popular among Algerians.
If the April poll is conducted in a free and fair way, Mr Benflis may stand a good chance of winning. Algeria however doesn't have traditions of fair elections. Mr Bouteflika, the military's candidate, was said to win the 1999 poll because of widespread fraud. His 1999 opponent withdrew from the poll one day before to election, protesting the alleged fraud. Mr Bouteflika won with 74 percent of the votes.
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