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Algeria’s presidential elections: how to break the deadlock?

Marwane Ben Yahmed
By Marwane Ben Yahmed
Publication Director of Jeune Afrique

Posted on Tuesday, 26 November 2019 13:04

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

Algeria’s leaders are stubborn and blind. Its citizens are unyielding, and they’re mobilizing. The campaign for the presidential election on 12 December began more than a week ago, but the situation looks deadlocked. 

“Our people, all categories combined – men, women, students and the elderly – came out in cohesion[sic] and solidarity with their army to express their willingness to vote massively on December 12,” according to Chief of the Army Staff and a true strong man of Algeria, Ahmed Gaïd Salah. .

Election fever is sweeping across the country, inspiring “the popular marches”  in support of the army, according to Gaïd Salah.

Alarming situation

On Friday, November 15, millions of Algerians marched to reaffirm their absolute determination for the 39th time in 39 weeks.

They’re demanding the end of the political system that’s been in force since independence, the departure of all those who came from it – including Gaïd Salah himself, Abdelkader Bensalah, the interim president, and the entire government team – the establishment of a civilian regime, and a transition managed by independent figures.

In other words, a total reset. The Algerian people are rejecting the presidential elections of 12 December! Algeria’s leaders are stubborn and blind. Its citizens are unyielding, and they’re mobilizing. The country can’t afford a deadlock, given the alarming economic situation.

General distrust

Five contenders entered the campaign on 17 November in a climate of general distrust.  We dreamed of a better democracy for a country that is going through a pivotal period and wants to rethink its political and social project from top to bottom. None of them come from civil society, or from the protestors. In some ways, all of them are linked to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

In a country ruled by the same charismatic leader for 20 years, Ali Benflis and Abdelmajid Tebboune are the frontrunners. Both of them were Prime Ministers under the former president.

But Benflis had the good sense to leave the post in 2003. At that time, he warned the public about the excesses of power. This is his third attempt to run for president. Needless to say, in 2004 and 2014 his campaigns were no easy task.

The other contenders include Azzedine Mihoubi (former Minister of Culture), Abdelkader Bengrina (former Minister of Tourism), and Abdelaziz Belaïd (former member of the FLN Central Committee).

Never in the history of Algeria have the people given up an inch of ground to an internal or external enemy. One of their favourites will be elected president. The elections will be poorly run, and probably contested, but there will be an election all the same.

Small Steps Strategy

In the interview he gave us, Ali Benflis explains the reasons that led him to participate in this election. They can be summed up in one word: urgency!

Benflis made a logical choice: to launch a conquest of El-Mouradia municipality in order to be in a position to act, reform, influence the course of events and, let us hope, meet the expectations of Algerians, who occupy the streets.

It’s a strategy to overcome the immobilism of the powerful and the human “blitzkrieg” (“lightning war”) desired by the protestors. He is, perhaps, the least bad option. The rational choice rather than a passionate one.

 

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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