Faced with people’s wrath, Algeria’s interim president calls for polls on July 4

Abdelkader Bensalah, the speaker of the upper house of parliament, was declared interim president following the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The decision was greeted with massive protests as people demanded the dismantling of the entire regime

April 12, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
The protesters have been demanding the dismantling of the entire regime. Photo: AP

Algerian interim president Abdelkader Bensalah has scheduled elections in the country on July 4. The announcement came on April 10, day after parliament officially confirmed that Bensalah, who is the speaker of the upper house, would replace Abdelaziz Bouteflika as the president for an interim period of 90 days.

Earlier, thousands of demonstrators took to the center in the capital city of Algiers to protest the appointment of Bensalah. The security forces charged at the crowd with batons, pepper spray and water cannon to break up the demonstration.

“Out with Bensalah, Belaiz et Bedoui!,” chanted the protesters amassed at the city center on Tuesday. They called for the resignation of Bensalah, along with Noureddine Bedoui, who was appointed as the head of government last month, and Tayeb Belaiz, the chief of the constitutional council who is set to take over as the interim president in case of Bensalah’s resignation.

It was after weeks of protests that Bouteflika, an ailing 82-year-old who wanted to contest for a fifth term, was forced to resign. However, the news of the appointment of Bensalah, a close ally of Bouteflika, infuriated protesters. The various organizations taking part in the demonstrations had made it clear from the beginning that their aim was not simply toppling the president, but dismantling the entire establishment elite. Prior to the protests, a coterie of powerful politicians, businessmen and army officials who dominate the ruling party, National Liberation Front, sought to field Bouteflika for a fifth term in order to maintain their control over the economy and political power in Algeria. The protesters sought the disempowerment of this entire political elite which has held power since the country’s independence from France in 1962.

77-year-old Bensalah, who was appointed by Bouteflika, is also seen as an establishment man. “I highly doubt that Bensalah, who is the product of the system, would be able to steer us towards that. What we need is a transitional government, a transition phase to put us on the right track – the real republic of a democracy where all Algerians would participate as real citizens,” Amina Afaf Chaieb, an Algerian activist participating weekly in the demonstrations held in France in solidarity, told Al Jazeera.

Even though Bensalah is not allowed to contest in the election, “[n]inety days is merely enough time for the system to maintain itself and give itself a new figure, a new facade,” she complained.

Speaking at a regional military headquarters on April 10, the army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, said that he expected those who benefited from corrupt practices under Bouteflika’s rule to be prosecuted. Salah had, in the last moment, taken the side of the protesters and declared Bouteflika as unfit to rule. “The judiciary,” he claimed, “has recovered its prerogative and can work freely.”