Algeria‘s army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah has said the date of the country’s long-delayed presidential election should be announced by mid-September – a move that would result in polls being held before the end of the year.
The official APS news agency on Monday quoted Gaid Salah – a key powerbroker since longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in April in the face of the mass protests – as saying that an independent body “for the organisation and surveillance of the election” should be quickly installed.
Angry at unemployment, corruption and an elderly elite seen as out of touch with the young, Algerians have been relentless in taking to the streets since February to protest, initially against the ailing Bouteflika’s plans to remain in office, and then for the removal of all remnants of a secretive political and military establishment that has dominated the country for decades.
Days after Bouteflika stepped down on April 2, upper house speaker Abdelkader Bensalah was appointed interim president. One of his first actions was to call presidential elections for July 4, but the date was later scrapped.
The grassroots protest movement has been adamant that no election should take place as long as Bouteflika-era officials, including Bensalah and Gaid Salah, remain in positions of power.
Opposition parties and civil society groups have also demanded constitutional changes and a reform of state institutions, seeking a transition period towards democracy rather than a quick election.
But on Monday, Salah said the electoral college should be summoned “on September 15” so that the election “can be held within the deadline stipulated by the law”.
His comments appeared to be addressed at Bensalah who, in line with Algeria’s electoral law, must issue a decree to gather the electoral college 90 days before polls can take place.
If the electoral college is summoned on September 15 as demanded by Gaid Salah, polls should therefore take place in mid-December.
Gaid Salah, once seen as a member of Bouteflika’s inner circle and initially a supporter of the president’s re-election bid, turned against the ailing leader in late March and demanded his resignation.
After Bouteflika’s resignation and in an effort to appease demonstrators, 79-year-old Gaid Salah promised to crack down on government officials and prominent businessmen suspected of corruption.
On Monday, Gaid Salah said polls could be preceded by “a revision of some texts of the electoral law”.
“There won’t be a total and deep overhaul … as demanded by some”, due to time constraints, he said.
He also lashed out at opponents of presidential polls, saying they were “conspiring against the people and the nation”.
“Stop putting obstacles in the path of loyal men who are providing initiatives to bring the country out of the crisis,” he added.
He reiterated that the army would “not tolerate any attempt to undermine the work of state institutions”.