ALGIERS (Reuters) - President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s mental and cognitive faculties are intact and he will continue to govern Algeria, the ruling FLN party’s chairman said on Friday, in comments aimed at quashing rumours over the ageing leader’s health.
Bouteflika, 78, suffered a stroke last year that put him into a French hospital for months and fueled speculation over whether the former independence fighter would step down and make way for a transition in the North African state.
The president has been seen only rarely in public since, usually appearing on state television meeting foreign dignitaries. He has been to a Paris clinic for checkups since his illness, and French government sources said Bouteflika had been admitted to a Grenoble hospital in November.
He won re-election for a fourth term this year, but several Algerian opposition parties have demanded an early presidential election, saying Bouteflika’s poor health is a major hurdle for him to govern, paralyzing decision-making.
“The president’s motor skills are reduced because of the neurological accident, but he leads the country with his mental faculties and cognitive abilities and those are intact,” the FLN’s Amar Saadani told Reuters on Friday.
“I understand some in the opposition are impatient, I understand also that they are in hurry, but the Algerian people voted for Bouteflika in 2014 knowing his motor skills were reduced,” Saadani said in a written response to questions.
Analysts have been expecting a government reshuffle to take place soon, including the naming of a new prime minister and key cabinet posts. Saadani said he hoped the new premier would come from the FLN ranks.
Any changes in the leadership are closely watched, particularly now with global oil prices dropping to levels that have started to fuel debate within a government that relies heavily on energy revenues for social spending.
Its high spending on social programs and memories of Algeria’s own 1990s war against Islamists left many wary of stoking unrest, helping Algeria, a gas supplier to Europe, avoid the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that hit its neighbors.
Nonetheless, strikes and riots happen on a daily basis, mainly calling for pay rises, housing and better living conditions.
Since independence from France, Algeria’s politics have also been dominated by internal power struggles between the FLN civilian elite and the military intelligence generals who often played the behind-the-scenes role in political decisions.
Even before his illness, Bouteflika has started taking measures to limit the power of the intelligence department, removing key generals and handing some of their duties to the army command, sources and observers say.
Saadani, chairman of the National Liberation Front party or FLN, said building a “civil state” remained a main goal for the Bouteflika government.
Saadani said a new constitution would be drafted in 2015, but denied it would contain text confirming the intelligence services were officially barred from politics.
Editing by Patrick Markey and Alison Williams