In a move that enhances incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's prospects for victory in Algeria's April 8 presidential election, the country's constitutional council on March 3 invalidated the candidacies of three of his rivals. The council ruled that moderate Islamist Ahmed Taleb Al Ibrahimi (head of the non-recognized Wafa party and former foreign minister), Mousa Watwati (chairman of the National Front) and Ahmed Ghazali (former prime minister) had failed to gather the 75,000 signatures required to be on the ballot. Opposition forces condemned the council's ruling as the result of blatant political pressure from Bouteflika.
With the disqualifications of these candidates and the withdrawal of five others, five challengers to Bouteflika remain in the race: Ali Benflis, the chairman of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) who served as prime minister until Bouteflika fired him in May 2003, and a leading opponent of the president; Louisa Hanoun, chairperson of the Labor Party; Abdullah Jaballah, chairman of the Islah party, an Islamist party that strongly opposes the regime; Said Saadi, chairman of the Coalition for Culture and Democracy (RCD), a hard line Berber party; and Ali Fawzi Rabb'in of the Berber Cultural Movement (MCB), considered a dark horse candidate. The Front of Socialist Forces (FFS), a more moderate Berber party, has called for a boycott, as it has done in past elections.
The military, Algeria's most powerful institution, has not interfered to block Bouteflika's candidacy nor has it openly supported any of his rivals. Most observers believe that the military's publicly "neutral" stance, along with Bouteflika's manipulation of the judiciary and the bureaucracy to sideline his rivals, will assure the president's reelection. A two-term president would signal a new phase in Algerian politics, as the country has experienced frequent turnover in civilian leadership since the end of one-party politics in 1989. A low turnout, however, would mar the legitimacy of a second Bouteflika term. Some observers believe that Algeria could witness a repeat of the 1999 election debacle, in which Bouteflika's six opponents quit the race the day before the vote, claiming massive fraud.