Tens of thousands of Algerian protesters have rallied in the capital Algiers and cities across the country demanding that a presidential election scheduled for December be cancelled.
Draped in Algeria‘s tricolour flag, demonstrators in central Algiers chanted slogans against the army high command and its chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah, as they marked the 40th week of the nationwide movement.
Gaid Salah emerged as a key figure after former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in early April, following weeks of unprecedented street protests demanding he withdraw his bid for a fifth consecutive term in office.
The powerful military chief has maintained that a presidential election is the surest way to break the country’s political deadlock, pointing out that people’s key demands have already been met, including the detention of officials suspected of corruption.
"One two Three, viva l'Algérie, w Gaid Salah dictaturi" pic.twitter.com/aM4knx3Ald
— Mehdi A. (@MehdiAlioui) November 22, 2019
Translation: “One, two, three, [long] live Algeria … Gaid Salah is a dictator.”
Demonstrators, however, insist that all members of the old guard, including interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, former associates of Bouteflika, be removed.
Activists in recent days called on people to take part in night-time protests to reject the vote, which they said will allow the current system to remain in place with a few “cosmetic” changes.
“Algerians are rejecting December’s election because they see it as an attempt to regenerate the system,” said Zine Labidine Ghebouli, an Algerian analyst.
“This is especially the case considering the repressive measures being taken by the authorities to impose the election,” said Ghebouli, referring to the arrest of several high-profile activists and politicians.
Arrivée du cortège des habitants de la Casbah et de Bab El Oued près de la Grande Poste. "Les généraux à la poubelle et l'Algérie obtiendra son indépendance". pic.twitter.com/FdtyAed6Qc
— Hamdi (@HamdiBaala) November 22, 2019
Translation: “Generals to the dustbin [of history] and Algeria will become independent.”
Security forces on Thursday arrested more than 80 people during a night-time protest in Algiers, according to a prisoners’ rights committee.
Though campaigning for the election officially kicked off on Sunday, the five candidates – all senior Bouteflika-era officials – public appearances have seen a dismal turnout, with disgruntled attendees at times interrupting presidential hopefuls and haranguing them for taking part in the vote.
Ghebouli said a national dialogue conference offered the best alternative. He said it would allow Algerians from all walks of life and ideological backgrounds to address their concerns and agree on a political plan.
“Whether this roadmap endorses the constituent assembly option or a transitional presidency, it will serve as an alternative to the current political impasse. There is an urgent need today to break the stalemate and find a way out of the legitimacy crisis.”
Additional reporting by Ramy Allahoum