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Algeria's main Islamist party to run in presidential poll

The Movement for the Society of Peace says it has selected Abderrazak Makri as the party's candidate in April's election
Makri had said when he was elected as the new head of the MSP party in May that he would stand in the election if the government did not bring the opposition into its plans for taking the country forward (AFP)

Algeria's main Islamist party, the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), has said it has decided to take part in April's presidential election.

During the night of Friday to Saturday "the consultative council decided by an overwhelming majority to take part in the presidential election and to present Abderrazak Makri as the party's candidate," the MSP's head of communications, Abdellah Bouadji, told the AFP news agency. 

Makri had said when he was elected as the new head of the MSP party in May that he would stand in the election if the government did not bring the opposition into its plans for taking the oil-producing country forward.

Presenting itself as Islamist and "moderate," the MSP had supported ageing incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika within a governing alliance, before going its own way in 2012. 

Bouteflika, 81, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since a stroke in 2013, is due to complete a fourth term in office on 28 April. The election is set for 18 April.

Despite his advanced age and poor health, some of Bouteflika's supporters have called for him to stand for a fifth term.

But the president himself is yet to make his plans clear.

By law, would-be candidates have until 4 March to register with the constitutional court.

Ahead of the last presidential election in 2014, Bouteflika only declared his intention to run a few days ahead of the deadline.

Little competition

In 1991, the army cancelled elections which an Islamist party was set to win, triggering almost a decade of civil war that killed some 200,000 people.

Observers say if Bouteflika runs again he is certain to win, as the opposition is divided into Islamists and secular parties.

Bouteflika is part of a thinning elite of the veterans who fought France in the 1954-1962 independence war and have run Algeria ever since. Many also credit him with ending the civil war by offering former Islamist fighters amnesty.

Bouteflika's supporters say his mind remains sharp, even though he needs a microphone to speak. The opposition says he is not fit to run again.

He is unlikely to face competition from within ruling circles.

Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, leader of the National Rally for Democracy, which is allied to Bouteflika's National Liberation Front, has already said he will not run if the president goes for a fifth term.

Bouteflika won with 82 percent of the vote in 2014, 90 percent in 2009, 85 percent in 2004 and 74 percent in 1999.

The government has said it wants to diversify the economy away from oil and gas, which accounts for 60 percent of budget finances, but there has been resistance from those within the ruling elite to opening up to foreign investment.

That has left the economy dominated by the state and firms run by business tycoons.