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Algerians Call to Cancel December 12 Presidential Vote
Algerian protesters shout slogans during a protest march in Algiers, Algeria, November 26, 2019. Protesters are calling for radical change of the system and reject the December 12 presidential election. (Billal Bensalem/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Algerians Call to Cancel December 12 Presidential Vote

Protesters demand ouster of old elites who have controlled political system for decades

Algerian security forces over the weekend arrested dozens of people opposed to the December 12 presidential election, as protests continued for the 40th week against the ruling elites linked to the old regime of ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, demanding that new blood enter the political system.

Meanwhile, the five candidates organized popular gatherings in numerous cities as the election campaign entered its seventh day. At the same time, the Algerian army leadership claimed there was “popular support” for holding the vote as planned.

Ismael Miraaf, an Algerian political analyst and lawyer, told The Media Line that Algerians had opposed the entire electoral process since the beginning, as their priority was to achieve real change by transforming the regime, “which has ruled Algeria for 53 years of dictatorship and despotism. People are sick of the same gang.”

Miraaf said that the multistage electoral process had failed to change the system of government in any meaningful way, but had rather re-established the old one. As proof of this, he pointed out that the five candidates were all senior officials under the Bouteflika regime. “There have been arrests campaigns, raids and a muzzling of dissent in the country, so the people are scared, but aware,” he said.

He added that France, the United States and other foreign countries had major economic interests in Algeria and needed the old system to protect these interests. The Western world knew that the army ruled the country, and “our military establishment protects Western interests, not our national ones,” he said.

Miraaf stressed that Algerians had a historic chance to better their country. In the beginning, the army reacted positively to the public’s demands, but not for long. “The greatest oppression is to deprive people of their right to change things. I believe they are betting that the people will get tired and stop demonstrating, but in reality, the pressure by the public is increasing.”

He said that whoever won the presidential election would lack legitimacy, which would result in a new wave of violence and demonstrations, because the election was imposed on the people against their will and contrary to their demands.

The Algerian political system has relied on the military establishment for stability ever since independence from France in 1962.

Demonstrators in the capital, Algiers, are demanding the abolishment of the entire ruling system connected to the Bouteflika regime. The ailing 82-year-old resigned on April 2 following pressure from demonstrators as well as the army.

The protesters have placed tremendous pressure on senior officials – especially those affiliated with the elites who have governed the North African country since independence – demanding that they step down.

Hamid Goumrassa, an Algerian analyst and a journalist at the Algiers-based El Khabar newspaper, told The Media Line that there was a “state of popular rejection” that had continued for nine months against all government projects in the country. Protesters have rejected the election because it would not achieve the change they had been demanding ever since they began the revolution against Bouteflika in February 2019.

“Algerians believe that the political system is extending its life through this election. The street wants to change the entire system drastically, while the five candidates in the election belong to Bouteflika system,” Goumrassa said.

He said that as the December 12 election day approached, the popular protests would increase, as would tensions between the security forces and the demonstrators. Despite the expansion of the demonstrations into the night, the government was still moving forward with its electoral project, Goumrassa noted.

Ahmed al-Baz, a political analyst who teaches at Sudan’s National Ribat University, told The Media Line that Algeria was is a complex state of nervous collapse: People didn’t like what had been put in place under the umbrella of the army, and it was not about the candidates but rather about a lack of trust between segments of Algerian society and the political class from one side, and Algerian society and the military establishment on the other side.

Baz said protesters didn’t start the uprising to reproduce a strict military regime, a system that would be less democratic than was the case during the Bouteflika era. “Yes, Bouteflika relied on the army, but he was able to portray a certain picture of a civil system inside the country, which isn’t possible now because of the military establishment is de facto ruling Algeria.”

He added that Algerians wanted the army to play its normal role as in any democratic state, but that despite this, the army still controlled the levers of power.

“This is the case in all of the Arab Spring countries, which went on to reproduce systems they protested against in the first place. The only exception is Tunisia, which managed to step in the right direction, as its political class managed to create mechanisms and ways to regulate their relations with one another in a peaceful manner, one which respects the diversity and the rules of the political game.

“Over the weekend, thousands of Algerians flocked to the main streets of the capital and other cities, where the Algerian police arrested a number of protesters who tried to object to the arrival of the candidates to their cities to organize electoral rallies. In addition [police arrested] 35 people in other areas who were objecting to a march in support of the election,” Baz said.

Hundreds of Algerians participated in protest marches around Algiers late on Thursday for the second night in a row, as protesters step up their monthslong campaign ahead of the December 12 presidential vote.

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