Thursday was Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 80th birthday, which came amid questions of his health and future as president.
Since President Bouteflika suffered a crippling stroke in 2013, he has been conspicuously missing from the public limelight, sparking renewed speculation about his well-being, according to News24.
In February this year, the invisible president canceled a scheduled visit to Algeria by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with local reports indicating that he was suffering from a bout of bronchitis.
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“For my generation, it’s game over,” Mr. Bouteflika reportedly said to a youth group in 2012, hinting at an early retirement.
Despite his poor health, President Bouteflika still remains a popular political figure in the leadership of Algeria.
In 2014, several months after suffering a serious stroke that saw him spend three months recovering in France, he went on to win the presidency, defeating his longtime rival and former Prime Minister Ali Benflis in a hotly contested presidential election.
The President attended his inauguration in a wheelchair, hardly able to read his victory speech and mumbling through the oath of office.
Since then, Bouteflika has rarely appeared in public, choosing to meet foreign guests and government officials privately at his official residence in Zeralda, west of Algiers, Algeria’s capital.
His odd behavior has left many of his political opponents accusing him of creating a power vacuum and calling for his resignation.
“I sometimes question the authenticity of the images broadcast on (public) television showing President Bouteflika receiving foreign guests,” Mourad, a 70-year-old Algerian retiree, said.
Others have accused Bouteflika of mismanaging the country and clinging to power despite his apparent poor health.
The Algerian opposition says Bouteflika’s recent move to restructure the country’s army and intelligence services is meant to ensure he remains in power and keeps his political opponents at bay.
In 2015, months after he was re-elected, President Bouteflika fired the country’s Secret Service boss, General Mohamed Mediene, who is widely regarded as the political kingmaker. Mediene had served as the head of the Department of Intelligence and Security agency for 25 years.
“The real debate is not about whether the president goes or stays, but about the fate of this system, [which is] corrupt, resistant to any change, and ready to keep president for life,” a media expert at the University of Algiers, Redouane Boudjemaa, said.
Bouteflika is the fifth president of Algeria, having assumed office in April 1999.
As President, he saw the end of the bloody Algerian Civil War in 2002 and ended emergency rule in 2011 amid regional conflict.