Algeria’s ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party has elected a new leader, according to state media, a month after former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit in the face of mass protests over his bid for a fifth term in office.
Mohamed Djemai, a 50-year-old businessman, was named as the new head of the FLN on Tuesday, state television reported.
Djemai is a relatively youthful figure atop the FLN, most of whose senior officials are in their 70s and have dominated Algeria’s politics since independence from France in 1962.
He replaced Moad Bouchareb, who like other associates of the ailing, 82-year-old Bouteflika stepped down when he did on April 2.
Bouteflika’s exit failed to placate protesters, however, who have continued to take to the streets to call for a complete political overhaul and a crackdown on corruption.
Until presidential elections on July 4, Algeria will be run by Bouteflika-loyalist and caretaker president Abdelkader Bensalah, though he has also faced demands to resign.
‘The judiciary has been freed’
Earlier on Tuesday, the army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah – who helped push out Bouteflika after having him declared unfit for office – said several big corruption cases would be brought forward as part of a major crackdown, private Ennahar TV reported.
“The judiciary has been freed from all pressures,” Salah said in a speech at a base in the eastern city of Constantine. “The country will be cleansed of corruption and corrupt people.”
A number of figures from the ruling political elite, including the finance minister, ex-prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia and several oligarchs, have come under investigation in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, Ouyahia appeared before a court to answer questions relating to a corruption probe implicating several associates of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, local media reported.
Footage of Ouyahia, who served as Algeria’s prime minister four times, entering the court in central Algiers was broadcast by several private television stations.
Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal was questioned a day earlier at the same court over the misuse of public funds.
Meanwhile, a court in Tipaza, a town roughly 80km west of Algiers, questioned former police chief Abdelghani Hamel as part of a judicial inquiry into alleged bribery.
The moves came after five billionaires were arrested on April 22 on charges ranging from illegally transferring large sums of money internationally to exploiting their proximity to the former head of state to win lucrative state contracts.
They include: Issad Rebrab, who is considered Algeria’s richest man, Ali Haddad, who was stopped at a border checkpoint as he tried to cross into neighbouring Tunisia, and the Kouninef brothers.
Amel Boubekeur, a research fellow at the Paris-based School for Advanced Studies, said the reason behind the anti-corruption drive was likely an attempt by Gaid Salah to settle old scores.
“The army and secret services have always used anti-corruption campaigns as a warning to Bouteflika’s clients when it was sensed that they became too influential,” Boubekeur said.
“In the last 10 years, we had the Chakib Khelil affairs, named after the ex-energy minister, we had the corruption investigation looking into the east-west highway construction … These never led to any arrests or new clean practices within the regime’s ranks.”