Algeria protesters rejects presidential polls, 'cozying up' to Putin

Algeria protesters rejects presidential polls, 'cozying up' to Putin
Demonstrators took to the streets across Algeria on Friday to call for the cancellation of a planned presidential election.
4 min read
25 October, 2019
Protesters have vowed a 'million-man' march on November 1 [AFP]

Algerians flooded the streets of the capital on Friday to demand the overhaul of the political establishment and reject a 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.

The veteran leader resigned in April under pressure from the street.

Initial presidential polls were planned for July - when the mandate for interim President Bensalah expired - but were postponed due to a lack of eligible candidates.

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. 

An Algerian boy carries a sign reading "[We want] a civil state" on Friday [AFP]

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

"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."

So far two presidential hopefuls - both considered close to the regime - have registered to run in the race.

They include Azzedine Mihoubi, leader of the Democratic National Rally party (RND), and a minister of culture in three governments under Bouteflika.

Five other candidates have made appointments to register before Saturday's midnight deadline, according to the National Independent Elections Authority, formed recently to oversee the vote.

Local media reports indicate that they include two Bouteflika era prime ministers, Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

Sochi scandal

Algerians have meanwhile been outraged by remarks made by Bensalah during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I asked to meet you to reassure you that the situation in Algeria is under control," the interim president told Putin on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, according to state broadcaster RT.

"The media has exaggerated the reality of what is happening in Algeria... although it is true that some elements are out on the streets each week" protesting, he added.

The footage has gone viral on Algerian social networks, with many saying they felt "humiliated" by Bensalah's remarks.

It "is shameful and an insult to the intelligence of the Algerian people," one user tweeted.

"When you are president, you do not 'reassure' a foreign country on internal politics... [while] ignoring the millions of Algerians who are protesting for democracy," said another on Twitter.

Demonstrators have called for a "million-man" march on November 1, which marks the anniversary of the start of the  Algerian War of Independence. 

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