Extremely low turnout reported in presidential vote as demonstrators in Algiers say deep reforms needed before polls.
Tebboune – who also served as housing minister under Abdelaziz Bouteflika – the former president forced to step down in April following mass protests – won 58.15 percent of Thursday’s vote, according to preliminary results announced on Friday.
The 74-year-old’s closest rival, Abdelkader Bengrina, came second with 17.38 percent. Former Prime Minister Ali Benflis was third, with 10.55 percent, while former Minister of Culture Azzedine Mihoubi came in fourth place, with 7.26 percent. Abdelaziz Belaid, the head of el Moustakbal party, obtained 6.66 percent.
On Friday, huge crowds gathered in Algiers to protest against the election, denouncing it as a “sham” because of the links of all five presidential candidates to the former president and the ruling elite.
“We were expecting Tebboune to win the first round. It was an easy guess because we know that he was the army’s favourite candidate. There was no fair competition”, Manel, a 32-year-old teacher, told Al Jazeera.
Authorities said 40 percent of voters had taken part in Thursday’s election, which state media cast as a high enough turnout to vindicate the decision to hold the poll, in spite of protesters’ call for a boycott.
“The turnout is satisfying and it will give the new president enough backing to implement his reforms,” said Ahmed Mizab, a commentator on state television, saying it showed the decision to hold the elections was “propitious and right”.
The authorities, including the powerful army, argue that the only way to move the country forward after demonstrators brought an end to Bouteflika’s 20-year rule in April is to elect a successor.
Weekly protests that toppled Bouteflika have not stopped, with demonstrators demanding the entire ruling elite cede power to a new generation, despite no obvious leader emerging to represent them. The protesters refer to themselves simply as “Hirak”, or “the movement”.
Omar Bouregaa, the nephew of war veteran Lakhdar Bouregaa, who was arrested in June for openly supporting the anti-government protests and criticising powerful army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah, said he refused to accept Thursday’s results.
“We can’t call it an election, it was simply a designation. The military-backed regime has appointed its candidate”, he said.
Bouregaa said his uncle, an 86-year-old who fought in the country’s liberation war against France, is confident that the leaderless movement will succeed in dismantling the political establishment.
“He is mentally very strong and he is sure that the old guard’s time is short. Sooner or later, they will leave the power”.
Protesters marched in cities and towns across Algeria throughout Thursday’s election, in some places clashing with police, who tried to disperse them with baton charges.
Riad Mekersi, 24, who has participated in all the Hirak protests since February 22 in Algiers, said the movement will continue no matter who wins.
“We have toppled Bouteflika, and we will topple all the system’s men. We won’t give up,” he said.
Even without questions over his legitimacy, Tebboune will face difficult times.
Nearly all Algerian state revenues come from oil and gas exports, which have declined in both price and volume in recent years. The government has already approved a 2020 budget with a nine percent cut in public spending, though politically sensitive subsidies remain untouched.
Djamila Ould Khettab contributed to this report from Algiers