ALGIERS – Thousands of demonstrators were expected to take to the streets of Algeria on Friday to denounce a presidential election they reject as a charade to keep the ruling elite in power.
Authorities said 40% of voters took part in Thursday’s election, which state media cast as a high enough turnout to vindicate the decision to hold the poll in spite of a boycott.
But protesters say the contest between five officially sanctioned candidates to replace ousted leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika was still an illegitimate sham.
No official result will be announced until later on Friday. One candidate, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former prime minister, has said he won the election outright, while three others have said they took enough votes to force a second round run-off.
The authorities, including the powerful army, argue that the only way to move the country forward after demonstrators brought down Bouteflika in a popular uprising in April is to elect a successor.
But weekly protests that toppled Bouteflika have not stopped, with demonstrators demanding the entire ruling elite cede power to a new generation, despite no obvious leader emerging to represent them. The protesters refer to themselves simply as “Hirak”, or “the movement”.
All five candidates were former senior officials, including two ex-prime ministers, two former ministers and a former member of the ruling party’s central committee.
Protesters marched in cities and towns across Algeria throughout Thursday’s election, in some places clashing with police, who tried to disperse them with baton charges.
Late on Thursday, the election body said some 9 million Algerians took part in the election.
“The turnout is satisfying and it will give the new president enough backing to implement his reforms,” said Ahmed Mizab, a commentator on state television, saying it showed the decision to hold the elections was “propitious and right”.
But Riad Mekersi, 24, who has participated in all the Hirak protests since Feb. 22 in Algiers, said the movement will continue no matter who wins.
“We have toppled Bouteflika, and we will topple all the system’s men. We won’t give up,” he said.
Even without questions over his legitimacy, the next president faces difficult times.
Nearly all Algerian state revenues come from oil and gas exports, which have declined in both price and volume in recent years. The government has already approved a 2020 budget with a 9% cut in public spending, though politically sensitive subsidies remain untouched.