Algeria presidential candidates to participate in country's first televised election debate

Algeria presidential candidates to participate in country's first televised election debate

Algeria will see a televised debate between five presidential candidates ahead of next week's controversial elections, which have been denounced by protestors as a continuation of Bouteflika's regime.
4 min read
03 December, 2019
Algerian demonstrators take part in an anti-government protest in the capital Algiers [AFP/Getty]

Five presidential candidates will participate in Algeria's first televised debate on Friday ahead of the country's December 12 election, Algeria's National Independent Authority for Elections announced.

Authority spokesman Ali Draa said Monday that the aim of the debate is to inform citizens of the candidates' programs.

Details of the debate, such as the time and duration, will be revealed at a later date, he added.

All five presidential candidates have agreed to participate in the debate, which will air just three days before campaigning ends.

It will be the first time Algeria has had a televised debate for presidential candidates since it began holding elections in 1995, perhaps prompted by Tunisia's success in doing so earlier this year.

The candidates taking place in the debate are former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrine, former culture minister Azzedine Mihoub, former Prime Ministers Ali Benflis and Abdelmajid Tebboune and Abdelaziz Belaid, head of the El Mostakbal Movement party.

Mohamed Chorfi, the head of the election authority, announced the final list. Twenty three candidates had applied to the election authority, but most failed to meet the requirements they needed to run.

The five candidates standing in the December poll all either supported ousted former leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika or took part in his government.

Protests that led to the ouster of former President Bouteflika continue across Algeria. Last Friday, Algerians thronged their capital to insist that the presidential election set for December 12 must not go ahead before a change of regime.

Saturday saw a march by several hundred Algerians in support of the presidential election rejected by a mass protest movement that has rocked the North African country since February.

But Protesters fear the poll will cement in power politicians close to ex-president Bouteflika, who quit in April under popular pressure after two decades as head of state.

"There will be no vote!" demonstrators chanted on Friday. "We swear we will not stop!"

They denounced an official crackdown on the so-called "Hirak" movement that has shaken the country with months of unprecedented protests.

Security forces, both uniformed and plain-clothed, flooded Algiers for the 41st consecutive Friday of demonstrations, deploying water cannon and anti-barricade vehicles.

"This is intimidation! Why so many police vehicles? We're protesting peacefully and are against violence," said Tassadit Ourabeh, 64.

At least 25 people were arrested before Friday's march, AFP journalists said. 

Police also used tear gas against young protesters outside a police station, witnesses said.

Read more: Graffiti and garbage: Algeria protesters trash 'meaningless' presidential election

On Thursday, a European Parliament resolution said MEPs "strongly condemn the arbitrary and unlawful arrest and detainment of, attacks on and intimidations of journalists, trade unionists, lawyers, students, human rights defenders and civil society and all peaceful protesters".

The Algerian authorities reacted by denouncing what it called "flagrant interference in its internal affairs" and a "disregard" for the country's institutions.

The protesters fear that a regime in power since the former French colony's independence in 1962 seeks to preserve its grip on the country.

As polling day approaches, positions on both sides are hardening, sparking fears of more radical measures.

"There is still strong mobilisation and an especially strong determination to reject the election," Said Salhi of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights told AFP.

No opinion polls have been published that indicate the likely turnout.

Despite the slogans, some demonstrators said they were still considering casting a ballot.

"I'm going to vote because we have to move on. If the new president doesn't keep his commitments then we'll be out on the street" again, said Djawida, a 50-year-old nurse.

But Tassadit was adamant that she would not vote.

"I might have voted if there was a candidate who was not part of the system, but there's no question" of that, she said.

Retiree Said Bensalem, 66, said: "I'm against this vote, because it is Bouteflika men who are standing and other Bouteflika men organising and monitoring the poll."

Protesters see all five candidates as accomplices to the military elite which has assumed de facto power since Bouteflika's resignation.

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