Algeria’s electoral authority has announced that 23 candidates have qualified for the country’s controversial presidential elections which are set to be held on December 12. The decision has come amid fierce protests in the capital, Algiers, marking the 36th consecutive round of weekly anti-government demonstrations. Protesters have called for an overhauling of the Algerian political establishment and further urged others to reject the call for presidential elections in December.
“There are many on the streets today who remain steadfast in their demand for regime change” stated Said Salhi of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights. Since entering its ninth month, Salhi added that the protest movement was “growing as we near the presidential election.” Activist, Malia Bouattia, remarked that the protests were aimed at preventing “another electoral farce that ends up rubber stamping the regime’s hand-picked candidate.” Furthermore, she rejected the participation of any elites in the electoral process who had previously been “complicit in the old regime’s practices.” Activists were also protesting against interim president Abdelkader Bensalah who assured his Russian counterpart this week that protests were “under control.”
The demonstrations this week mark nine months of protests after the Algerian public flooded the streets and demanded the resignation of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Protests have continued ever since despite his resignation in April of this year, after a twenty-year reign. The comments from protesters come amid skepticism over the fact that many of the country’s elites—who were very much associated with former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika—are heavily involved in the electoral process which will determine the country’s new leader.
These ongoing demonstrations in Algeria are greatly demonstrative of the difficulties that are faced by MENA countries in particular when attempting the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Such transitions are similarly paralleled in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, where attempts to instil democratic reform have devolved into either civil war—and been particularly exacerbated by foreign interference—or resulted in a relative continuation of the status quo. As with these previous cases, it is unlikely that Algeria will undergo the democratic transformation that its protesters are hoping for as long as the elites of the previous regime continue to maintain influence. Thus, the current situation in Algeria presents an example of the delicacy of the democratic system, in the sense that it will ultimately require a sustained and prolonged effort from within by its own citizens, which will need to be perpetuated beyond the next election cycle.
The protests in Algeria began in February of this year after Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he would be running for a fifth presidential term. Peaceful protests subsequently forced the Algerian military to insist that Bouteflika resign, which he did two months later. However, at the heart of the protest movement have been issues associated with prolonged economic stagnation, unemployment, as well as chronic government corruption and squandering of expenses. Moreover, with the resignation of Bouteflika, the appointment of a long-time regime-ally Abdelkader Bensalah as acting president was met with great disappointment from protesters, who demanded that all remnants of the Bouteflika government be removed to prevent them from hijacking the country’s transition to democracy. Authorities have, however, rejected such demands and evidently so as many of the 23 qualifying presidential candidates are Bouteflika-era figures. Protesters have thus continued their demonstrations in the hope that their demands will be met.
As has been the case with many Arab authoritarian leaders, it is unlikely that they will go with ease. While the resignation of Bouteflika may have been a positive move and success for the protesters, it is clear that his regime, most particularly the military, maintain their grip on power. The situation draws parallels with Egypt where the transition to democracy during the Arab Spring also failed, with the country ultimately defaulting on a military dictatorship. Yet, the Algerian situation remains optimistic in the fact that the government has not reacted violently against protesters, which is likely the result of seeing how this can quickly develop into civil war, such as in Syria or Libya. With a regime which is acting with some caution, there is perhaps a greater opportunity for success for the Algerian protesters, however it is unlikely that this success will be seen as quickly as they would hope.
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