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Situation Update - Algeria

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TENSIONS INCREASE AHEAD OF ALGERIA’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ON 12 DECEMBER

  • Presidential elections in Algeria are scheduled for 12 December

  • The election is taking place amid political upheaval as the country has witnessed weekly protests since February, which were initially sparked in response to long-time President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announcing his intention to run for a fifth term in office

  • Bouteflika resigned in April after weeks of nationwide protests and pressure from the military; however, protesters have since been calling for the removal of all officials linked to the Bouteflika regime

  • Tensions have been increasing ahead of the election as protesters keep up their pressure on the interim government and reject the upcoming elections, claiming that the five presidential candidates are too closely aligned with the former regime

  • Despite popular rejection of the election and expectations that voter turnout will be low, the election looks set to continue and will grant the ruling elite an extension to their reign

  • Protests are set to persist in the wake of the election by those demanding an overhaul of the political system

Algeria
Background

Presidential elections in Algeria, scheduled for 12 December, are taking place amid a period of political upheaval. Elections were initially scheduled to be held in April this year; however, after months of speculation surrounding whether long-time President Abdelaziz Bouteflika would run for a fifth term, mass protests erupted in February when Bouteflika confirmed his intention to run. Many Algerians believed that Bouteflika, whose health had declined significantly and who had rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, was being used as a front by a group of businessmen, politicians and military officials, known as “le pouvoir”, to assert their own agenda.

Weeks of nationwide protests and pressure from the country’s powerful military resulted in Bouteflika resigning in April; however, protesters have since carried out protests on Tuesdays and Fridays every week, maintaining their pressure on the political and military elite and calling for the removal of all of those linked to the former Bouteflika regime, which has dominated the country for decades.

The military-backed interim government, which was formed after Bouteflika’s resignation, initially planned to hold elections on 4 July, before interim President Abdelkader Bensalah's mandate expired later that month. However, authorities postponed the vote citing a lack of viable candidates and rescheduled it to 12 December.

Analysis

Protesters strongly reject the upcoming election, claiming that it will allow the current political and military elite to remain in power while outwardly appearing as if there has been change. In the lead up to the election the protesters have been calling for the resignation of all Bouteflika-era officials, including interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui. In particular, they have also been calling for a transitional period and the establishment of a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution prior to an election taking place. Notably, the protesters are also increasingly turning against powerful army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah. However, the military is set on holding onto their power.

In attempt to appease protesters, authorities have pursued an anti-corruption crackdown in recent months, arresting several former officials, including two former prime ministers, 12 ministers, two intelligence chiefs, senior generals and several prominent businessmen. However, protesters say they do not trust those in power to hold transparent elections due in part to their links to the Bouteflika regime, and they fear the Bouteflika-era officials still in power are using the poll as a way to appoint Bouteflika’s successor. Notably, the five candidates approved to run in the 12 December election are largely Bouteflika-era officials and all are rejected by protesters. They are: former Prime Minister’s Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Ali Benflis, former Culture Minister Azzedddine Mihoubi, former Tourism Minister Abdelkader Bengrine and Abdelaziz Belaid, head of El Mostakbal Movement party.

Despite protester concerns, Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah insists the elections will be transparent and fair, while Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah has stated that anyone who tries to disrupt the vote will be prosecuted. Salah has maintained that the election is the only way to break the current political deadlock.

Implications

Political tensions have been increasing since election campaigning began on 17 November, with near-daily protests taking place. These regular protests are expected to persist throughout the election period and although the protests that have been ongoing for nine months have largely been peaceful, there is an increasing risk of clashes between protesters and police. Dispersal methods have previously involved the use of force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, presenting a risk of injury to not only those protesting but also those in the vicinity of any gatherings. Of note, authorities have also been waging an increasing crackdown on protest leaders ahead of the elections on accusations such as “harming national unity” and “undermining the morale of the army”, demonstrating a growing lack of tolerance toward the protests ahead of the election.

Despite popular resistance, the presidential election looks set to take place on 12 December and will hand the ruling political and military elite an extension to their reign. This is also despite an expected low voter turnout and widespread rejection of the outcome. However, as protesters have seen that they have been able to effect change, including forcing the resignation of Bouteflika and other officials, they are likely to continue to take to the streets in the wake of the election to demand reform.

Advice
  • Limit travel on the day of the election. If travel is undertaken, it is recommended to use secure journey management and to avoid polling stations and all demonstrations, which may take place with little to no notice.
  • Anticipate an elevated security force presence and additional security measures, such as checkpoints and road closures, which can disrupt or delay travel plans.
  • Avoid all demonstrations, campaign rallies and large gatherings throughout the election period. Even events that appear peaceful can quickly deteriorate. If a gathering is encountered, leave the area immediately.
  • Keep a low profile and maintain situational awareness in light of security risks.
  • Where possible, avoid discussions relating to the political situation due to heightened sensitivities.
  • Prepare for possible disruptions to internet and communication services in the event of large-scale unrest.
  • Follow the advice of local authorities at all times, including curfews and travel restrictions.
  • Review your personal security plans regularly.
  • Monitor local and national media for updates.