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Algeria set for political infighting over presidential succession

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been hospitalized in France for more than a month, even longer than his extended convalescence from stomach cancer about ten years earlier. The illness has reopened the succession issue and set off maneuvering among Algeria's political and military elite (the pouvoir). The extended hospital stay also ends any chance that Bouteflika will consider running for another term. Notwithstanding the rosy assessments of his recovery from his administration and supporters within his political clan, other clans will argue with some reason that he is too weak to withstand the rigors of campaigning, and is unlikely to survive another term.

There are now three basic scenarios for the Algeria succession. In the first and most likely scenario, Bouteflika finishes out his current term as president while Algeria's rival political groupings jockey to secure the nomination ahead of the 2014 election. In the second and somewhat less likely scenario, Bouteflika either steps down through ill health or dies and the rival clans successfully handle a managed transition. The least likely scenario sees the military takeover the country after the rival clans fail to agree peacefully on a replacement.

What is certain, however, is that the transition will dominate the political scene in Algeria and the authorities will have little time to focus on policymaking until the issue is resolved, probably in late 2013, perhaps with ramifications for the oil and gas industry, and security in North and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The current ruling clan has not groomed any successor acceptable to the other factions and the next president will need to win the support of the regime's main groups. In the past, this situation has allowed formerly marginalized politicians to surface as compromise candidates. The presidents Chadli Benjedid in 1979, Mohamed Boudiaf in 1992, and Bouteflika himself in 1999 secured power through this mechanism. As a result, early possibilities to replace Bouteflika include the former president Liamine Zeroual, and former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Mouloud Hamrouche. This is the early speculation, however, and many other names could rise to the top in coming months.

Riccardo Fabiani is an analyst with Eurasia Group's Middle East and North Africa practice.

FAROUK BATICHE/AFP/Getty Images

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