With elections set to take place on July 4, the country risks an institutional vacuum as interim leader Bensalah steps down. Why are protestors really opposed to the set election dates and how does Algeria's military benefit?
Demonstrations continue to sweep across Algeria with renewed intensity as protestors demand the departure of all ruling elites that have any connection with ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime.
Bouteflika held power for 20 years and was in poor health following a stroke in 2013. He resigned on April 2 following widespread pressure from the public and the army.
Only earlier this month, his brother, Said Bouteflika, once seen as the de-facto power behind the ailing ex-president, was arrested along with two former intelligence heads by Algeria’s military and charged with “harming the army’s authority and plotting against state authority”.
Prior to their arrests, at least five businessmen, including the country’s wealthiest tycoon, Issad Rebrab, were detained for alleged corruption.
With intensifying protests, it seems Algeria’s protestors will not be so easily appeased.
They have extended their demands to calling for Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah’s resignation. Bensalah is the acting head of the country’s upper house of parliament and is replacing Bouteflika for 90 days to oversee a presidential election scheduled for July 4.
Will the military play fair?
While Ahmed Gaid Salah, Algeria’s top military official, initially earned a measure of popular credibility by ousting Bouteflika, as the deadline for elections looms, Algerians have taken to expressing disdain for the chief-of-staff, including him in their calls for resignation, as well.
Opposition leaders and activists have expressed concern that the military will not deliver on the promised electoral timetable, while others criticise the timetable as too short for any serious candidate to mount a challenge to the entrenched regime.
May 19 was the deadline for prospective presidential candidates to declare their campaigns.
Nearly 70 people have declared their candidacy for the election.
Salah is expected to be fielding his own candidate to preserve his power and influence.
Ali Titouche, acclaimed Algerian political analyst, pointed out the absence of “candidates with popular or regional support”, predicting that elections are not expected to go forward given the continued weekly protests against the regime.
The widely held view is that the changes seen are changes within the regime rather than an overhaul of the regime itself.
While the popular movement has maintained its momentum, particularly given its immense size and lack of formal representation, no agreed-upon path forward exists for protestors to add support to.
Instead, in the aftermath of the Bouteflika regime, Algeria’s military faces a large, disparate popular movement with no leadership or direction.
Salah has vowed to maintain “harmony” and “unity” between the army and demonstrators who repeatedly cry out “the army and the people are brothers” during their protests.
But for many, it is clear that Salah has benefitted the most from the protests, using popular demands to purge the regime of his rivals.
Salah, who used to give a weekly update to the public about the nation's progress, has been absent from the public eye for two weeks, fuelling concerns that the regime could be preparing to force its own vision on the public.
An editorial published by El Moudjahid, a pro-government newspaper, warned that authorities will “go after all ... activists who hamper the electoral process”.
Chekri Said, another acclaimed journalist, has written that millions of Algerians are firmly against the proposed early elections.
Salah, who has previously suggested the possibility that he replace Bouteflika himself, emphasised that the electoral timeframe must be followed in accordance with the constitution.
"Salah's emphasis on the electoral timetable has led many to question whether the General is pushing his own candidates through before other independents can win over the people’s support," political analyst Achref Grine told TRT World.
“In the coming weeks, we can expect to see him continue to purge his rivals and strengthen his position ahead of the election on July 4,” Grine added.
A fragmented opposition
With no clear path ahead, the country risks a political vacuum if elections do not take place on July 4, given that interim leader Bensalah’s term ends on July 9, 2019, exactly three months after Bouteflika’s resignation.
With protests characterised by chants such as “the people want the fall of the system”, (in Arabic “al-shab yurid isqat al-nizam”), consensus seems increasingly unlikely.
One chant, “yetnahaw ga‘” (Arabic for get rid of them all), quickly went viral on Algerian social media and has since come to serve as the defining mantra of the country’s popular revolution, having been immortalised through memes, hashtags and slogans.
“Salah is concerned that if it makes compromise with protestors on the street, their ambition will only grow, with more demands,” Mark Jefferson, an analyst with Stratton Consulting Group, told TRT World.
“Whether their demands are met or not, one thing is for certain. The lack of compromise on both sides may very well lead the country to a conflict that would be years in the unmaking,” he added.