The Algerian presidential election scheduled by the military command to take place on 4 July 2019 has been cancelled. On Sunday 2 June, the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, announced the “postponement” after it rejected the applications of two hopefuls. The decision was welcomed by the population, which rejected massively the plan, demanding more time and new leadership to manage the transition. The Council has asked the Interim President, who the public wants out, to choose a new date and stay in his position for the time being.
The announcement comes within the context of high political tension, in particular following the death of human rights activist Kamel Eddine Fekhar, while he was in police custody. There was a glimmer of hope, with the country’s strong-man-by-default, army chief General Gaid Salah calling for ideas and inviting the protest movement to come forward with suggestions. The General’s 28 May speech was welcomed by most politicians, commentators, and militants on all sides, who interpreted his conciliatory tone as a genuine call for a transition to be driven by civilians. Meanwhile, the fate of Interim President Bensalah, Prime Minister Bedoui and the head of the National Assembly Bouchouareb first appeared to be sealed. With the collapse of the 4 July election, there was near certainty that they would leave government. But Interim President Bensalah was, once again, asked by the Constitutional Council to remain as the caretaker. The problem is that the Council does not have the legal mandate to ask the Interim President to stay, and in effect, Algeria is now officially operating without a constitution. All these moves appear to be parts of a series of maneuvers aimed at derailing any process of transition leading to normalization and a civilian government.
On 3 June 2019, a coalition of eight political parties rejected the Constitutional Council’s call to extend the term of Acting Head of State Abdelkader Bensalah. Meeting in Algiers, the coalition said the decision was not only unconstitutional, but it also does not conform to the aspirations of the people. The eight parties praised the “principle of dialogue” called by army chief Gaid Salah in his 28 May speech. They stressed, however, the need for the symbols of the old regime to leave “to guarantee the success of this dialogue and the credibility of its conclusions”. Then, to sabotage all efforts of finding a solution to the crisis, Interim President, Abdelkader Bensalah spoke tonight (Thursday, 6 June) in a highly provocative televised speech essentially to deliver no clear roadmap ahead, but continuing on a policy of stalling and delaying. In his evening talk he called on the political class, civil society and national personalities to “opt for the path of the inclusive dialogue in order to lay the foundations of the process of consultation,” with a view to solving the current political mess created by the regime he belonged to. The very presence of Bensalah in front of TV, delivering a message of regime continuity, will undoubtedly stir more passion among virtually all Algerians who, for months, have been calling for his resignation.
Bensalah is now clinging to the presidential seat in complete illegality. The constitution that he helped promote did not even anticipate the current political turmoil, and therefore he is now ruling outside of the legal framework.
In his message, Bensalah spoke of the “path of inclusive dialogue,” and by inclusive he probably means he and his peers in the regime, in particularly the military command, will have to be included in all talks relative to Algeria’s future. He even talked about “the next presidential election,” as if the collapsed 4 July election is not enough proof of a complete rejection by 40 million Algerians of an election driven by the remnants of the Bouteflika regime.
While the Algerian regime is not using the same method of violence used by their peers in Sudan, it is clearly betting that its delaying and stalling tactics will succeed in turning the protests into an exhausted movement. However, MEA Risk does not anticipate any easing of the anti-government protests, but expect its further hardening going forward. The political situation in Algeria has taken a dangerous turn and unless the military changes its stance and engages with the general public, Algeria is headed toward uncharted territory.