Algerians shout slogans and march draped in national flags during an anti-government protest in the northern coastal city of Oran on April 9, 2019. Picture: AFP
Algerians shout slogans and march draped in national flags during an anti-government protest in the northern coastal city of Oran on April 9, 2019. Picture: AFP

Algiers — Thousands of protesters rejected the Algerian parliament’s choice of an interim president on Tuesday after the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, demanding immediate steps to remove the old guard and introduce sweeping democratic reforms.

The appointment of upper house chair Abdelkader Bensalah accords with Algeria’s constitution but many people oppose him because he is part of a ruling caste that has dominated Algeria since independence from France in 1962.

The protest movement demands the overhaul of a secretive political system built around veterans of the 1954-1962 war of independence against France, ruling party figures, big businessmen and the army.

“Appointing Bensalah will fuel anger and it could radicalise the protesters,” said taxi driver Hassen Rahmine.

The critical question is how Algeria’s powerful military — long seen as a highly effective backstage player in politics — will react to Bensalah’s appointment and any opposition that arises.

“I thank the army and all security services for their work,” Bensalah told parliament after his appointment.

Army chief of staff Lt-Gen Gaid Salah carefully managed Bouteflika’s exit after declaring him unfit to stay in power and expressed support for protesters, who have put up little resistance to the military.

But demonstrators are determined to quickly remove figures like the interim president.

Even though Bensalah is almost certainly just an interim figure, Algerians see him as one of many politicians who are too old and out of touch, and want rapid change.

He was a prominent figure in the 1990s and has been re-elected as leader of the upper house since the early 2000s.

“All in all, the way in which the vacancy of the presidency of the republic has been filled does not bring our country closer to the end of the crisis,” said Ali Benflis, leader of the opposition Talae El Houriyet party.

On stepping down, Bouteflika promised that elections would be held after 90 days as part of a transition he said would usher in a new era.

According to the Algerian constitution, Bensalah will remain interim president until new elections are held.

“We must work to allow the Algerian people to elect their president as soon as possible,” Bensalah told parliament. 

Reuters