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  • Demonstrators carry banners during the protest rejecting upcoming presidential election in Algiers.

    Demonstrators carry banners during the protest rejecting upcoming presidential election in Algiers. | Photo: Reuters

Published 10 December 2019

"We are not against an election but we stand against this vote as it is nothing else than a masquerade," a young protester said.

As presidential elections are due to take place Thursday in Algeria, protests continue, denouncing the upcoming vote as offering no real choice and being a mere mechanism to keep in power the political system demonstrators are fighting since the beginning of the year.

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Students, joined by other sectors of the society, took to the main streets of the capital Algiers to demand the cancelation of the elections. They marched amid a heavy police presence, chanting “we will not vote” and “we want freedom.”

"We are not against an election but we stand against this vote as it is nothing else than a masquerade since it is organized and monitored by Bouteflika's close allies," Anissa, a 21-year-old mathematics student told Al Jazeera.

Young demonstrators in Algeria have been in the front line of the peaceful and leaderless movement that forced out veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April, after he announced his intention to run for a fifth term.

Yet, the youth see their uprising as unachieved. They are demanding the whole old ruling elite to quit power entirely and the military to stay out of politics.

The five presidential candidates, approved by the state, are former prime ministers Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Ali Benflis, ex-culture minister Azzedddine Mihoubi, former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrine, and Abdelaziz Belaid, a party leader.

All of them are familiar faces regarded by the protesters as part of the old elite that has held power for decades since the country won independence from France in 1962.

The protesters also believe the army will continue to cling to the power behind the scenes after consolidating its position in the hierarchy by purging once untouchable rivals.

Its chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, is now Algeria’s most powerful man and considers the election of a new president as the best way to put an end to a year of tumult and to restore the political order.

As protests gathered momentum, Gaed Salah had gone on television to urge Bouteflika to step down and many of the old president’s former allies were detained on corruption charges.

“Bouteflika’s corrupt elite is in prison. The bad news is that there is no alternative elite,” a retired government minister said. “The system will not change, but it will adapt to changes as it has always done.”

The election -although unlikely to bring political change- could become a pivotal moment in the struggle between the protesters and the army, testing the patience of both sides in Africa’s biggest country, an important gas provider to Europe.

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