Algerian council scraps July 4 presidential election

The move will is likely to extend the rule of interim leader Abdelkader Bensalah

Algerian Senate Speaker Abdelkader Bensalah attends the opening session of the 30th Arab League summit in the Tunisian capital Tunis on March 31, 2019.  / AFP / POOL / FETHI BELAID
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Algerians will have to keep waiting to see the political transition they have been demanding for months after they forced ailing 82-year old president Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power in April after 20 years in power.

The constitutional council said on Sunday that it was impossible to hold elections for a successor as planned on July 4 as it had rejected the only two candidates to apply.

The two, who are not public figures, had not met the quorum of 60,000 signatures in support, a political source said.

The move means Abdelkader Bensalah, the speaker of parliament turned interim president, will likely stay on until elections can be held.

The council did not set a new date for the presidential election, asking Mr Bensalah, who was appointed as interim leader until July 9, to organise it.

The move is unlikely to please the thousands to took to the streets in February to demand Mr Bouteflika stand down after his office announced he would stand a fifth term.

Jubilant crowds cheered his departure on April 2, but demands quickly focused on overhauling the entire political system in order to avoid seeing a younger version of the longtime leader stepping in to replace him.

On May 31, for a 15th consecutive Friday, protesters come out on the streets of the capital despite a spate of arrests and detentions.

"No elections with this gang in power," the crowd shouts. With Mr Bouteflika rarely seen or heard since 2013 when he suffered a stroke that left him in a wheelchair, many believe that “Le pouvoir”, or the power, have been running the country in his stead. Made up of family members, heads of security, senior politicians and business leaders, protesters fear that they will agree a new leader among themselves and little will change for ordinary people.

“Bensalah will go beyond the 90 days as long as there has been no election but this will anger the protesters,” political analyst Farid Ferrahi said.

Lt Gen Ahmed Salah, who has been managing the transition, called on political parties and protesters to meet and discuss a way out of the crisis.

While Mr Bouteflika was widely respected for charting the country away from the civil war and leading it into an economic boom through the 2000s funded largely through oil and natural resource extraction, stagnation and unemployment fed into widespread dissatisfaction with the near moribund government over the last decade.

When oil prices fell in 2014, government income used to fund large social handouts was hit and it struggled to maintain the payments that had somewhat masked the underlying economic issues.

Since Mr Bouteflika was removed, several prominent business leaders – including the country’s richest man, Issad Rebrab, Mr Bouteflika’s brother and two intelligence heads – have been arrested as part of a corruption crackdown in a bid to assuage anger on the streets about years of unchecked nepotism and cronyism in the upper echelons of society.