Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 29 January 2020

Tebboune now holds Algeria's hopes and dreams

The president-elect must find a compromise to help his nation move past the Bouteflika era

Algerian President-elect Abdelmadjid Tebboune has won a widely boycotted vote. AFP
Algerian President-elect Abdelmadjid Tebboune has won a widely boycotted vote. AFP

When Algerians took to the polls on Thursday to elect their new president, the outcome of the vote was difficult to predict for the first time in decades. And even though Abdelmadjid Tebboune won with 58 per cent of the vote, the turnout was about 40 per cent - the lowest since 1989. This was largely due to calls from the “hirak”, the country’s ongoing protest movement, to boycott the election.

Every Friday for almost a year, Algerians have taken to the streets in the thousands. They were protesting at first against ailing former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to run for a fifth consecutive term in elections that were due to be held in April. After he announced that he will not be running and stepped down in March, protesters continued to gather to demand the overthrow of the opaque and unpopular ruling elite, including all the officials associated with Mr Bouteflika’s regime, before any election was held.

It will be Mr Tebboune’s role to find a compromise that will appease his people and allow his country to move past the Bouteflika era

Mr Tebboune’s biggest challenge will be to gain the trust of protesters who see him as just another member of the Bouteflika-era elite, which they have dubbed le pouvoir, while managing the ambitions of the powerful army. Algeria’s septuagenarian president-elect is no stranger to the high ranks of government. He has held various ministerial positions in Mr Bouteflika’s government, even serving as prime minister for a few months in 2017. On social media, Algerians have given him the ominous moniker “the chosen one”, because they see him as close to army chief Gen Ahmed Gaid Salah, the county's de facto leader, underlining Mr Tebboune’s ties to Algeria’s old guard and the army, which has ruled political life since the country’s independence in 1962.

The protest movement has pushed the ruling class to enact some change since Mr Bouteflika stepped down. Authorities have attempted to appease public discontent by cracking down on high-level corruption. Influential businessmen and politicians from Mr Bouteflika’s inner circle have been detained, including the former president’s own brother Saïd, and former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal. They were all handed jail sentences of more than 10 years.

While protesters have hailed these arrests as steps in the right direction, they remain undeterred in their demand to see the back of the ruling class in its entirety. It will be Mr Tebboune’s role to find a compromise that will appease his people and allow his country to move past the Bouteflika era. This task is almost insurmountable but not impossible, even for a man that many on the streets associate with le pouvoir. In neighbouring Tunisia, where a popular uprising uprooted former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime in 2011, it was the late Beji Caid Essebsi, an official who served under the overthrown president for years, who against all odds succeeded to help his country transition to democracy and build a new strong state. He was Tunisia’s interim president in 2011 and was elected as head of state from 2014 until his untimely death this year. The situation in Algeria today is certainly different from what it was in Tunisia eight years ago but the Tunisian experiment offers a glimmer of hope.

Algeria is Africa’s largest country by area and holds a wealth of natural resources. Yet in a report from April last year, the World Bank predicted that the number of those living below the poverty line could double as the nation's riches fail to reach those who need them most.

A protester lifts a placard in Algiers as he takes part in a demonstration to reject the results of the presidential elections. AFP
A protester lifts a placard in Algiers as he takes part in a demonstration to reject the results of the presidential elections. AFP

In his election campaign, Mr Tebboune promised to retrieve taxpayer money that was "stolen and hidden abroad" and tackle the country’s problems head on. For Mr Tebboune, that challenge has just begun. Now is the time for him to prove that he will act on his word, weed out corruption and mend old wounds so that Algeria can meet its people’s aspirations.

Updated: December 14, 2019 06:19 PM

SHARE

SHARE