Algerian Interim President Promises Free Elections

April 10, 2019 Updated: April 10, 2019

ALGIERS—Algeria’s interim president, in a televised speech to the nation, promised on April 9 to organize free elections within 90 days after weeks of protests that led to the resignation of leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power.

Abdelkader Bensalah was rejected by demonstrators right after he was named by parliament to take charge during a volatile transition period after decades of autocratic rule.

“I am committed to organizing elections,” he said.

The army was aligned with the constitution as a pathway out of the crisis, added Bensalah.

Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General 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.

The military has been a kingmaker in Algerian politics for decades and is expected to help guide the potentially turbulent interim phase.

Bensalah said he would consult with the political class and civil society. A long-time ally of Bouteflika, who resigned last week, he is seen by protesters as part of an aging and out-of-touch ruling caste that has dominated since independence from France in 1962.

Bensalah promised to “set a national and sovereign commission to secure fair elections” in an apparent bid to placate demonstrators demanding sweeping democratic reforms.

Mass protests have led to the disintegration of what has been described as the ruling elite’s “fortress”—veterans of the war of independence against France, ruling party figures, businessmen, the army and labor unions.

But Algerians have been pushing for more radical change since Bouteflika’s allies abandoned him in the weeks leading up to his exit last week.

They are unwilling to compromise on their demand for a new generation of leaders in the North African country, which has failed to create jobs and improve living standards despite vast oil and natural gas resources.

The critical question is how Algeria’s military—which has watched the unrest unfold from the sidelines—will react to Bensalah’s appointment and any opposition that arises.

By Lamine Chikhi & Hamid Ould Ahmed