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Algeria divided over presidential elections

By Mourad Kamel
Posted on Monday, 4 November 2019 08:35

Thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Algiers, after Friday prayers, October 18, 2019. Toutik Doudou/AP/SIPA

Algerian political leaders and parties are divided whether to support the forthcoming presidential elections scheduled for 12 December, or to boycott them altogether.

In early October, supporters of Mouloud Hamrouche, former Prime Minister under President Chadli Bendjedid, gathered outside his home in Algiers to ask him to run in the presidential election on 12 December. With his mobile phone in his hand and sunglasses on his nose, the 76-year-old Hamrouche declined their request.

“Even if I were elected, I would not have my hands free,” he said. “Algeria needed a new project. The people who came in on 22 February gave us a new chance, but the conditions are not there to implement this project.”

“Don’t close the door so early, Prime Minister!” shouted a member of the crowd.

“I am a fighter, I will never shut up, but this is not the right time to hold an election,” Hamrouche responded.

Mouloud Boumghar, a lawyer and professor of public law, said, “The transition demanded by the demonstrators will not be achieved by electing a new president. What Hamrouche implies is that having the election under these conditions is remaining in a military state and having a puppet as president.”

No candidate but you have to move forward

Since the official announcement of the election date by Acting Head of State Abdelkader Bensalah, under pressure from General Ahmed Gaïd Salah — following two failed attempts on 18 April and 4 July — demonstrators have continued to gather in the thousands every Tuesday and Friday.

Subsequently, more and more leaders and political parties have announced that they will not participate in the electoral process, either by not presenting a candidate or by completely boycotting the initiative.

President Bensalah, however, stated on Tuesday, 22 October, — four days before the deadline for the submission of candidate files — that the prerequisites for the proper conduct of the elections had been met.

Islamist Abdallah Djaballah, President of the Justice and Development Front (JDF), says he hoped the military institution would postpone the election and “return sovereignty to the people”. His party decided not to submit any candidates because it considered “the trajectory followed by the system does not correspond to the ideals of the revolution of the people”.

Djaballah, however, has not said whether he would support or oppose the electoral process.

The JDF is not the only group without a representative for the presidential election.

The National Liberation Front (FLN), a majority party in Parliament but a victim of an internal crisis —particularly after the imprisonment of Mohamed Djemaï, its ephemeral Secretary General, for “destroying official documents and threats” — announced that it would not have a flag bearer either on 12 December.

“In these difficult times for the party, we prefer not to propose a presidential candidate,” explained FLN Executive Abou El Fadel Baadji. Nevertheless, the old party is convinced that the election should be held.

“We remain convinced that it is necessary to elect a new president to fill the void in the executive branch, and especially to move forward on more important issues,” he said.

The protestors have been clear

Fatma-Zohra Ben Braham, a member of the dialogue panel led by Karim Younès, also believes that nothing will change in Algeria until a new head of state is elected.

“Everyone claims, everyone has limited ideas, and this delays the democratic process. We must organize the popular movement, with people at its head who can speak on its behalf,” she explained. Fatma-Zohar is under fire from critics, however, for having declared that there are no prisoners of conscience in Algeria.

“Our hirak (anger) is focused on revolution, not in discussions with the ruling military,” said Moussaab Hammoudi, a doctoral researcher at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris.

Ali Benfils, the Prime Minister under Abdelaziz Bouteflika before joining the opposition, announced his candidacy for the third time, after successive defeats in 2004 and 2014.

At the end of August, after a meeting with Karim Younès, his party, Talaie El Hourriyet, stated in order to hold a free and fair election, “the presidential election is the most realistic, shortest, least risky and least costly path for the country, provided that the political, institutional and legal conditions and a favourable environment are met”.

Demilitarize the system

Other discordant voices have also been raised, such as those of 18 national figures, including Ali Yahia Abdenour, lawyer and human rights activist, Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, and sociologist Nacer Djabi. They called for the elections to be postponed

“This is one of many initiatives,” Nacer Djabi says. “It is about opening the debate, freeing political prisoners, and giving more freedoms to our young people.”

“This last initiative is in the spirit of the hirak, but remains relatively softer, more diplomatic,” said Hammoudi.

Boumghar claimed it would be necessary to negotiate with the army.

“Normally, the military should not play politics, but in the last issue of their monthly magazine, El Djeich, they demonstrated the opposite. The titles of articles such as, ‘Barring conspirators and sceptics from the road’, or ‘There is no room for shenanigans when it comes to the supreme interest of the country’, are particularly telling,” noted the public law professor.

Nacer Djabi and his seventeen allies are more blunt. “The army must return to its barracks and continue to fulfil its role as a border protector,” said the sociologist.

“When Ahmed Gaïd Salah, the chief of staff, refuses to use the word ‘hirak’, and there is a feeling of fear among people who demonstrate, it is because the rhetoric of the system is martial,” explained Hammoudi.

Boumghar concurred. “Articles 7 and 8 of the Constitution respectively guarantee that the people are the source of all power, and that the constituent power belongs to the people,” he said. “Perhaps we must therefore go beyond the depoliticization of the army and go as far as the demilitarization of the system.”

 

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

 

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