Algeria: Impasse Over President's Plans Muddies 2019 Race

A constitutional change in 2008 removed term limits and opened the way for him to become president for life. A 2016 amendment reversed the move, limiting presidents to two terms. Since the two-term limit was not applied retroactively, Bouteflika can seek re-election one more time.

Another unknown is who is running Algeria right now: Bouteflika, his brother Said Bouteflika or the powerbrokers that long have been an essential component of the country's obscure governing structure. Also unclear is what role, if any, a coterie of army generals that in the past chose the winning presidential candidates from their own ranks might play going forward.

Benflis, 73, an influential lawyer and justice minister in a previous government, was Bouteflika's campaign director in 1999 and was named prime minister in 2000. Then something broke. He quit as prime minister in 2003 and unsuccessfully challenged the man he once supported in 2004 and again in 2014 like others crying fraud at election results. He formed his own party in 2015, Talaie El Houriat, Arabic for Vanguard of Freedoms.

The lack of clarity over Bouteflika's plans has so paralyzed politics that no one has declared an intention to run for president. While some have proposed uniting by a single opposition candidate as a way forward, Benflis thinks that strategy would fail.

"That would be the reappointment of the same system," said Benflis. "The presidential election will resolve nothing."

Tackling Algeria's political, economic and soci....

read more from