As Algeria gears up for its presidential election on April 17, there is growing anxiety about the political future of Africa's second-largest oil producer. It dodged most of the neighborhood troubles, but rare protests in recent weeks and an ailing incumbent president running for a fourth time have clouded the outlook.
"There is high potential risk of severe turmoil," Lahcen Achy, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center, told CNBC.
"The vote is taking place in a different context, after the Arab uprisings, with a very angry youth population and a sick president who is competing again," he explained. "All these factors make this vote historical, and it might be a turning point".
The 77-year-old Abdulaziz Bouteflika, celebrated as a veteran of the Algerian War of independence from France, came to power in 1999. He has been largely absent from public life after suffering a stroke last year. "It cost me to remain deaf to your calls," he wrote in a long letter to the public on Saturday. "I decided not to disappoint you…and put all my energy into the realization of your wishes".
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He is not the only candidate on the list, with five others competing (four having run in two previous presidential polls). Several political parties, including Algeria's largest Islamist group, say they will boycott the election. Although all forms of protests are banned in what is Africa's largest country, there have been smaller demonstrations in the run-up to the vote.
"Cross-party and military establishment support for a Bouteflika fourth term stems from their concerns that any change to the status quo could see Islamist parties come to the fore, or destabilizing protests emerge, as in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia," Anna Boyd, Manager, MENA at IHS Country Risk, pointed out.
The army is understood to wield enormous influence on political decisions, yet its generals have preferred to stay under the radar. Even if another candidate was endorsed the army, economists cite high youth unemployment and lack of economic diversification as a ticking time bomb.