Promise of Elections Does Little to Appease Anger in Algeria

(Bloomberg) -- A promise by Algeria’s new interim leader to hold a presidential election on July 4 failed to pacify an irate nation, with protests on Thursday the latest evidence that calm won’t be restored until the nation’s entire ruling elite stands down.

The focus of the demonstrators’ anger was Abdelkader Bensalah, appointed interim leader two days ago after weeks of mass protests won the backing of the powerful military and ended Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 20-year tenure.

Bensalah outlined the election plan late on Wednesday but Algerians who see the former senate chief as a Bouteflika crony, part of an establishment that ran the oil- and gas-producer’s economy into the ground, were never likely to be appeased.

“Algerians refuse all the old figures who are at the root of the corruption that prevailed in the country,” said Messaoud Boudiba, a political activist and president of the independent Education Union. Protesters would return to the streets on Friday, he predicted, to say no to officials “allied against us and against the people’s will.”

After a stroke in 2013 left Bouteflika largely incapacitated and out of the public eye, it has been accepted that the third-largest gas exporter to Europe was ultimately run by a group of politicians, military officials and businessmen known collectively as “le pouvoir.”

The military came out in support of the protesters as it became clear they weren’t going to back down. Yet there are signs that its sympathy with peoples’ demands is primarily aimed at maintaining its own interests.

Military chief of staff General Ahmed Gaid Salah had started the countdown to Bouteflika's resignation by declaring that the presidency should be deemed vacant. On Wednesday, he waded in anew, calling for the judiciary to act against the corrupt “gangs” that had ruled the country. The term was one used by the protesters to refer to the regime and its wealthy backers.

His speech “resembled that of a head of state,” said Algiers University political analyst Louisa Aid Hamadouche, adding that the military chief “talked about subjects that do not normally belong to the military institution.”

“If the protests continue peacefully, they can still hold the elections but they will have no legitimacy,” said Hamadouche. “Elections under current conditions means reproducing the same political system because there will be no evidence of transparency.”

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