Algeria presidential hopeful slams Bouteflika's 15-year reign

AFP , Monday 24 Mar 2014

Police officers detain a protester during a rally against Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Wednesday, March 12, 2014 (Photo: AP)

Algerian presidential candidate Ali Benflis on Monday slammed the record of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, saying the ailing incumbent had failed to push through reforms despite 15 years in power.

At a rally in Blida, west of the capital, the former prime minister described as "unsatisfactory" the state of the country's health and education sectors, judiciary and civil freedoms.

"He who is unable to rule should not blame others... Fifteen years were not enough for their reforms and today they demand another five," he said of Bouteflika's bid for a fourth term.

The 77-year-old leader's decision to seek re-election on April 17 despite serious health problems, which confined him to hospital in Paris for three months last year, has drawn heavy criticism not only in opposition ranks but also from some within the regime.

"Neither the doctors nor the patients are satisfied with the state of the health sector... The teachers lack everything, and when they protest they are repressed by the police," Benflis told the crowd of around 800 people.

In his speech on the second day of election campaigning, the former judge and justice minister reserved particularly scathing criticism for the Algerian judiciary.

"The judges have their hands tied and obey the executive, from appointments to promotions to dismissals... The judiciary is not independent, which is why it doesn't prosecute corruption," he said.

The human rights defender served as prime minister during Bouteflika's first term in office, and is considered the biggest threat to the ailing president's re-election chances.

He was sidelined from politics after running against the president in 2004, winning only 6.4 percent of the vote, compared with Bouteflika's 85 percent.

At the launch of the presidential campaign Sunday Benflis called for an independent parliament capable of sacking the cabinet and described the government as a "support committee" for Bouteflika's candidacy.

On Monday he said that the new "consensual constitution" he has promised to introduce would give greater independence to the judges and make parliament a monitoring tool to "scare the government."

He also highlighted his firm commitment to multiparty politics and to the freedom of trade unions.

Meanwhile around 50 activists with the Barakat movement (Arabic for "That's enough") opposed to Bouteflika's re-election, gathered outside the public broadcasting headquarters in Algiers, accusing state media of favouritism and demanding balanced election coverage.

In Blida, not far from where Benflis was speaking, former premier Abdelmalek Sellal, tasked for the third time with heading the president's campaign, addressed a crowd of Bouteflika loyalists.

Sellal, one of several aides campaigning on behalf of Bouteflika who is too sick to take to the hustings himself, hailed the security achievements of the president.

"Blida regained its security thanks to the work of the president," he said.

He was referring to Algeria's devastating civil war in the 1990s that left some 200,000 people dead and which Bouteflika is credited with helping to end.

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