Algeria presses ahead with election amid protests


Protesters have marched on a weekly basis for months to demand systemic political change before elections are held PHOTO/Ryad Karmi/AFP

Demonstrators want root-and-branch political reform and the departure of the country’s ruling elite.

Algeria is set to hold a contentious presidential election on December 12, despite demonstrations against the poll led by protesters who want wide-scale political reform before any vote.

Five candidates, all erstwhile associates of deposed President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, are competing to replace the longtime ruler who was forced out by the military on April 2 amid popular anti-government protests.

Those in the running for the top office say the vote is needed to help resolve the legitimacy crisis that has beset the country since July, with interim President Abdelkader Bensalah long exceeding his 90-day mandate. 

But for demonstrators, whose weekly marches have gained renewed momentum in recent months, the vote does not address their demands for deep structural change and the departure of the ruling elite. They fear the election will bring in a new civilian figurehead but leave an opaque political system intact

‘Civilian facade’

The military has been a key arbiter of power in Algeria since it gained independence from France in 1962, wielding influence over economic and political decision-making.

According to Nacer Djabi, a professor of sociology at the University of Algiers, the military has sought to maintain its position.

Since Bouteflika was removed, the army’s chief of staff Ahmed Gaid Salah has emerged as the country’s de facto leader and has been adamant that the election takes place.

“The regime has always had a civilian facade with the military governing from behind the scenes,” Djabi told Al Jazeera. “This facade collapsed with the fall of Bouteflika.”

“It’s true that Algeria has an interim leader but owing to a lack of charisma and poor health, the military’s role is now at the forefront,” he continued, referring to Bensalah.

Djabi, however, emphasised that the military did not want to involve itself in every political decision, noting that it may intervene in elections or other issues of “strategic importance” but would leave “the rest” up to civilian leaders.

Al Jazeera for more

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