File Photo: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika preparing to welcome the President of France's National Assembly, Claude Bartolome at the presidential palace in Algiers, Monday, March 11, 2013 (Photo: AP)
Algeria's ageing leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Friday called a presidential election for April 17, a day after returning from medical treatment in France, without indicating if he himself would stand.
"Bouteflika today proceeded with the signing of the presidential decree convening the electoral body for Thursday, April 17, 2014, for the election of the presidency of the republic," a statement from the president's office said.
With Bouteflika's health woes making his own participation increasingly unlikely, the leadership contest is likely to be one of the most important in years in the energy-rich North African country, which is a key player in the fight against Islamist militants plaguing the region.
The 76-year-old president, who has ruled Algeria continuously since 1999, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a mini-stroke that confined him to a Paris hospital for three months last year.
He flew back from France on Thursday after an unexpected three-day medical visit which national media described as a "routine check-up."
Bouteflika has never named a favoured successor and has not ruled out the possibility of accepting his nomination by the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) in November to stand for a fourth term despite his failing health.
The uncertainty about his intentions has created a vacuum at the heart of Algerian politics.
Presidential hopefuls now have 45 days to present their candidacies to the constitutional council, which rules on whether they are valid within 10 days.
The electoral law requires each candidate to gather at least 60,000 signatures from supporters across no fewer than 25 provinces, with a minimum of 1,500 signatures from each.