Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the aging independence veteran who suffered a stroke last year, will run for re-election on April 17, his premier said on Saturday, a vote likely to hand him a fourth term in power.
Bouteflika, who opponents say is too frail to govern, is expected to announce his candidacy formally later on Saturday, with Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal running his campaign, a source close to the presidency said.
"Bouteflika will be a candidate," Sellal said in the northwestern city of Oran. "Bouteflika's decision to run comes at the insistence of the people and after some deep reflection."
State news agency APS said the 76-year-old leader has officially notified the Interior Ministry of his candidacy.
Algeria's Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal speaks during the opening ceremony of the African Conference on Green Economy in Oran, Feb. 22, 2014.
Sellal's announcement appeared to end months of speculation over Bouteflika's future after his stroke last year put him in a Paris hospital and intensified discussion of a political succession after his 15 years in office.
In an apparent reference to opposition criticism about Bouteflika's health, Sellal said, "He does not need to campaign himself, there are men who can campaign for him."
With the backing of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party, unions and other FLN allies, Bouteflika is almost assured of re-election. Opposition parties are still weak.
Loyalists see Bouteflika as the man who gave Algeria peace and economic stability after a civil war with Islamists in the 1990s that killed about 200,000 people. Many Algerians are wary of any upheaval after that bloody experience.
But critics say Bouteflika, rarely seen in public since he returned from treatment in France last year, is too ill to run and should allow a new generation of leaders to take over.
In the short term, another Bouteflika term means stability for a partner in a U.S. campaign against Islamist militants in a region still struggling with unrest three years after revolts in other North African nations such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Algeria needs to attract more investment in its flagging oil and gas sector and to reduce restrictions on non-oil investment in an economy still shaking off years of centralized control.
Since independence from France in 1962, Algerian politics have been dominated by senior FLN leaders and military officers, known in French as "Le Pouvoir" (the Power), who often tussle for influence behind the scenes.
Since late last year, Bouteflika had shored up his position by curtailing the influence of the chief of the DRS military intelligence agency, who in the past played political kingmaker.