Algeria election: France calls for transparency before crunch vote – ‘GAME OVER!’

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The North African country’s ailing, wheelchair-bound leader hopes to extend his 20-year rule by seeking a fifth term in office, but has faced widespread protests over the move. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “We have taken note of President Bouteflika’s candidacy. “We hope that the presidential election will take place in the best possible conditions. 

“It is up to the Algerian people to decide on whom it chooses as its leaders and up to the Algerian people to decide on its own future.” 

Last week, French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux had already urged for “full transparency” regarding the already controversial elections. 

He said: “We want this election to take place in the best possible conditions, and for full transparency in the campaign.” 

Tens of thousands of people have rallied in cities around Algeria in recent weeks in the largest protests since the 2011 Arab Spring revolt, calling on Mr Bouteflika, 82, not to submit election papers for the April 18 election. But the papers were filed on Sunday. 

Mr Bouteflika, however, offered to step down after a year if re-elected for a fifth term in an effort to quash the brewing unrest and take the steam out of youthful opposition to his rule. 

The announcement, read out by the ageing leader’s campaign manager Abdelghani Zaalane, said Mr Bouteflika pledged that if he won he would organise a national conference to discuss reforms and then call early elections in which he would not run. 

But thousands of Algerians took part in renewed protests on Tuesday, calling on Mr Bouteflika to step down and rejecting his offer to not serve a full term. “Game over” read one poster. “System – go away,” said another.

The protests appear to lack leadership and organisation, but the unrest still poses the biggest challenge to the Algerian leader and the ruling elite, made up of veterans of the 1954-1962 independence war against France. 

Algerians have long tolerated a political system that crushes dissent as a price to pay for stability. But the young Algerians who are leading the anti-establishment protests want a new generation of leaders and have few attachments to the old guard.

The north African country’s mostly young population, almost 70 per cent of whom are aged below 30, are desperate for jobs, better services and an end to widespread corruption in a country that is one of Africa’s biggest oil producers. 

In addition, Mr Bouteflika’s political rivals argue he is no longer fit to lead the country, citing his ill health and a lack of economic reforms. 

A group of opposition leaders and political activists have even called for the April election to be postponed in light of the protests against his rule. 

Mr Bouteflika has not spoken in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. He appeared in a wheelchair in Algiers in April last year but is now reported to be in a Swiss hospital. 

Helped by its oil and gas revenues, Algeria has enjoyed relative peace and wealth for decades. But it remains mired in corruption in a region still reeling from the political and economic instability and militant attacks that followed the 2011 anti-government uprisings. 

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