Algeria registers 22 candidates for presidential vote amid protests

Algeria registers 22 candidates for presidential vote amid protests
Two former prime ministers under former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika are among 22 candidates registered for the upcoming December presidential election.
4 min read
27 October, 2019
Protesters have condemned the upcoming December election [Getty]
Algeria's election authority has registered 22 candidates for a December presidential election, including two former prime ministers under former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the official APS agency reported Sunday.

Former premiers Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune had submitted their candidacies for the December 12 vote before the deadline for nominations passed Saturday. 

Both are considered front-runners in an election which however is opposed by the mass protest movement that alongside the army forced Bouteflika to resign in April.

Activists are demanding sweeping reforms before any vote takes place, and say Bouteflika-era figures still in power must not use the presidential poll as an opportunity to appoint his successor. 

Polls originally planned for July 4 were postponed due to a lack of viable candidates. Observers are predicting a weak turnout in December.

Benflis, 75, served as premier under Bouteflika from 2000 to 2003. 

After his dismissal, Benflis ran as Bouteflika's main opponent in 2004 and 2014, coming a distant second both times as the president was re-elected with over 80 percent of the vote.

Tebboune, 73, was a senior civil servant before serving as a minister from the 1990s.

After Bouteflika assumed the presidency in 1999, Tebboune was minister of communication, obtaining further portfolios in 2002. 

Bouteflika appointed him prime minister in May 2017 before sacking him less than three months later against a backdrop of factional fighting in government.

Read more: Algerians will keep rejecting elections until they are fair and free

Other Bouteflika-era stalwarts are also running, including Azzedine Mihoubi, leader of the Democratic National Rally party (RND) which was the main ally of the former president's party, and Islamist former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrina.

The elections authority, which was recently formed to oversee the vote, has seven days to approve the nominations before passing the list to Algeria's constitutional council for final validation.

Meanwhile, Algerians flooded the streets of the capital on Friday to demand the overhaul of the political establishment and reject the planned presidential election in December.

The protests, which also took place in multiple provinces including Constantine and Oran, came on the eve of a deadline for presidential candidates to register for the army-backed polls.

The demonstrators also rejected controversial comments made by interim leader Abdelkader Bensalah, who earlier this week "reassured" his Russian counterpart that the protesters were "under control".

It was nine months ago that Algerians launched a mass protest movement calling on former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down.

Algerian protesters have for months demanded the cancellation of the presidential elections due to take place in mid-December, insisting that remnants of Bouteflika's regime remain and must be removed to facilitate the country's democratic transition before any vote takes place.

"There are many people on the streets today" who remain steadfast in their demand for regime change, Said Salhi of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights told AFP.

"It is a real showdown," he added.

The Hirak protest movement has demanded transitional institutions replace Algeria's entire system of government, in place since independence from France in 1962.

While the authorities have put several high-ranking figures from Bouteflika's regime in jail on corruption charges, they have rejected demands for further reform.

Demonstrators point to the military as the biggest barrier to Algeria's democratic transition. 

"There will be no vote," read a sign carried by one of the protesters in Algiers on Friday.

Those words were accompanied by a drawing showing army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, widely acknowledged as the country's most powerful and influential figure, and the interim president being booted into "the dustbin of history".

"None of the necessary guarantees that have been demanded time and again by the people, to avoid yet another electoral farce that ends up rubber stamping the regime's hand-picked candidate, have been put in place," explained activist Malia Bouattia for The New Arab on Thursday. 

Read more: Algeria's cry: 'They've all got to go,' even the bots!

"There is an outright rejection that anyone complicit in the old regime's practices over the last six decades, should be even remotely associated with what they seek to be a transformed political system."

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