Bouteflika set for hollow victory: historian

Tue Feb 24, 2009 12:59pm GMT

By William Maclean

LONDON (Reuters) - President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is heading for a hollow victory in an election in Algeria in April because he is ill-suited to the task of tackling enormous youth unemployment, a prominent historian said.

Benjamin Stora, one of the world's leading authorities on the OPEC member country, said many Algerians sensed it would take a new generation of leaders to modernise the oil-dependent state and give hope to a population impatient for a better life.

"It could be a Pyrrhic victory without real competition," Stora said of the 71-year-old's bid to extend a decade in power with a third five-year term in the April 9 election.

"The widespread suspicion is that the current president wants to be president-for-life," the Algerian-born French historian of the Maghreb told Reuters.

Bouteflika confirmed last week he would seek re-election yet again, a move made possible after lawmakers changed the constitution to lift a limit on presidential terms.

But Algerians wanted change, not continuity, Stora said, and his likely victory could be weakened by the fact that the opposition is marginalised and there is no Islamist challenger.

"Bouteflika's first term was built on the theme of civil peace. But today, 10 years later, what can a third candidacy stand for except to achieve modernisation and generation change?

"Yet Bouteflika is nearly 72. Everyone in Algeria sees that Barack Obama is 47 years old. Yet when you look at Mubarak, Gaddafi, Ben Ali and Bouteflika, even Sarkozy looks young by comparison," he said, comparing the U.S. and French presidents to the ageing leaders of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.   Continued...

<p>Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika speaks during his official visit in the western city of Blida, February 18,2009. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra</p>
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