Algerian opposition weighs joint presidential candidate

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Members of Algeria’s diverse political opposition struggled Wednesday to secure a joint candidate to face incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the April 18 presidential election.

Abdallah Djaballah, president of Algeria’s Justice and Development Front, an Islamist party, called for the meeting to devise a common political platform for the opposition groups.

But participants left the meeting with no agreement, saying they needed more time to discuss the issue within party hierarchies.

Former prime ministers Ali Benflis and Ahmed Benbitour, as well as moderate Islamist party leader Abderrazak Makri, attended alongside representatives from some smaller political parties.

“The opposition is facing a historic challenge, and it must meet it because this presidential election is a turning point in the destiny of Algeria,” Justice and Development Front spokesman Lakhdar Benkhellaf told The Associated Press.

Many senior opposition figures, however, were noticeably absent from the meeting. Some plan to boycott the poll altogether amid accusations that the political deck is already stacked in favor of Bouteflika, who’s been in power since the 1990s.

Bouteflika, 81, announced this month he planned to seek a fifth 5-year term despite serious questions over his fitness for office after a 2013 stroke that left him largely infirm. He has been seen in public only a few times a year during his entire fourth term.

Yet many Algerians likely would vote for Bouteflika again, fearing his departure could lead to government instability and have negative consequences for the country.