Algeria’s capitalist rulers are working overtime in an attempt to cobble together a new government that can quiet widespread protests against continuing military rule. Against mass opposition, they held a presidential election Dec. 12 where all five hand-picked candidates had close ties to the military regime.
Mass actions exploded in February when it was announced that then President Abdelaziz Bouteflika — whose regime was hated for its corruption and violations of democratic rights — would run for a fifth term, even though he had rarely been seen or heard in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. He was forced to resign in April.
The rulers tried twice previously in the months since Bouteflika’s ouster to hold rigged elections, but backed off in the face of the ongoing upsurge.
Even though the protests continued, this time they pushed the vote through. Officially just under 40% of eligible voters went to the polls, the lowest percentage ever for an election in Algeria. The Watan daily said even that claimed participation rate was “overestimated and inflated.”
Hundreds of thousands protested before and during the election, calling for a boycott and release of all political prisoners. They chanted, “No to election of shame” and “generals in the garbage.”
Hundreds of thousands more took to the streets across the country the day after the vote, in the 43rd consecutive week of protests. Working people call their actions the Hirak, “the movement.” Protesters sang, chanted and carried handmade signs hailing the boycott.
At one point Dec. 13, police tried to keep the protest divided on opposite sides of the central plaza in the capital Algiers. Protesters broke through police ranks filling the plaza, forcing the cops to retreat. There are videos of the cops slinking out of the plaza as demonstrators chant, “We will not stop marching.”
Sparsely attended campaign rallies for all five candidates had to be held under police protection, and their campaign posters were constantly being torn down. Former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who “won” the election with 58% of the vote, canceled his final rally in Algiers in the face of protests.
Working people in Algeria face a deep economic and social crisis. With some 95% of the country’s foreign currency coming from the sale of natural gas and oil, the rulers have tried to place the burden from the drop in oil prices over the last several years onto the backs of the toilers. The government slashed spending for social programs and infrastructure, raised gas prices and boosted taxes. Officially some 28% of young people in Algeria are unemployed.
Widespread arrests and police attacks on protests over the last eight months have backfired, building the movement.
“We look forward to working with President-elect Abdelmadjid Tebboune to promote regional security and prosperity,” the U.S. State Department said Dec. 13, hoping to bolster the regime while ignoring the protests.
After the vote, Tebboune claimed, “I am ready to dialogue with the Hirak,” saying he “will work for all Algerians.” He knows the rulers still have a problem.