Algeria’s army stated Sunday that it won’t back any political leader for the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for next December to choose a successor to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
“We affirm that only the people will pick the next president through ballot boxes, and the army will not support anyone,” a defense ministry statement quoted Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah.
“The gang and its acolytes try to spread the idea that the army will support one of the candidates for the next presidential election,” Gaed Salah added, denouncing that some politicians associated with Bouteflika who “are trying to disrupt the election by spreading propaganda.”
The military official also praised the prison sentences against two former intelligence chiefs and Bouteflika’s brother, pledging the anti-corruption campaign started earlier this year following mass protests that forced the former president to step down after two decades in power, will continue.
“The just punishment handed down to certain elements of the gang … [amount to] realizing an urgent and legitimate claim of the people,” he said.
Tens of thousands of protesters have been demonstrating weekly since February 2019, first against Boutelflika’s plans to remain in office and after his removal in April, to reject plans for a presidential election in December. The protestors argue Algeria cannot be considered free with Bouteflika allies still in positions of power.
Opposition movements are demanding that all figures associated with the ex-president leave and that the army plays a smaller role in state affairs.
Over the summer the authorities have made concessions by arresting more prominent figures linked to Bouteflika on corruption charges while increasing the pressure on protesters with tougher policing.
A military court last week handed down 15-year terms against Mohamed Mediene, Bachir Tartag, Said Bouteflika and Workers Party leader Louisa Hanoune for “conspiring against the army” and “the authority of the state.”
Several other important senior officials have also been jailed, including two former prime ministers and 11 ex-ministers, as well as many prominent businessmen close to the ex-president.
However, many fear these actions are part of a power struggle between the still-powerful government players rather than authentic efforts to reform the state. Gaed Salah himself faces persistent calls to resign from the protesters.