On November 17, 2019, the Algerian presidential election campaigns began. Five candidates are standing in the elections, which are scheduled for December 12, 2019. Nonetheless, the popular protest movement has continued to grow, and protesters have rejected the upcoming elections, calling instead for fundamental change in the Algerian political system and for the removal of the military establishment from the heart of political decision-making. This paper examines the political context behind the elections and the indicators and prospects for the political process during the current election period.
Political context behind the elections
Since February 22, 2019, Algeria has experienced a continued storm of protests, leading to the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on April 2 and the arrest of prominent civilian and military figures from the former President’s regime. The constitutionally-valid presidential elections scheduled for 18 April and 4 July were both postponed.
Following the failure of national dialogue initiatives proposed by a number of political figures, with the support of the military leaders, the political conflict has consolidated around two opposing camps: on the one hand, the civil forces and youth organizations calling for the complete overhaul of the political system that has been in place since the country gained independence, including the complete removal of military influence from the heart of political decision-making; and on the other, the increasingly isolated military leaders seeking to maintain the current constitutional and political status quo in order to prevent the political and security situation spiraling out of control.
The 12 December elections therefore form part of the strategy adopted by the military establishment with the aim of setting new rules for the political transition which will pave the way for fresh dialogue with the political powers, based on the objective data gathered during the elections. There are three main variables in the current elections:
The Constitutional Council has endorsed a final list of candidates, which has been approved by the National Independent Elections Authority. Five candidates are standing in the elections:
It remains uncertain as to whether the elections scheduled for 12 December will take place. There are two possible options:
If the elections go ahead as planned, the competition will likely be between the two former prime ministers, Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune. In that scenario, Ali Benflis is the most likely victor, as he has a more secure voter base and considerable practical experience in politics. The military establishment may also concede to work with Benflis to facilitate negotiations with the protest movement, as he has retained strong connections with active members of the movement. One indicator of this possibility is the publication by the pro-military newspaper El Moudjahid of a poll favoring Benflis to win the upcoming elections.
Abdelmadjid Tebboune still stands a chance of winning, however, as he enjoys the highest level of trust among the current military leaders. While he has voiced his opposition to the financial cartel, his son has been accused of involvement in a corruption scandal. The military establishment may also back Tebboune if no agreement can be reached with Benflis on the guarantees that need to be provided after the elections and if Benflis’s prospects remain the strongest. None of the other candidates have any real hope of winning the elections, even a candidate such as Azzedine Mihoubi who enjoys a close relationship with the military. As for Abdelkader Bengrina, although he represents the Islamist voice in Algerian politics, he will win only a small proportion of the vote.
Post-election political scene
There are two likely scenarios:
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