Algeria’s five presidential candidates launched their campaigns for the December 12 election at the weekend with some opposition protesters who say the vote will not be fair hanging sacks of garbage in places designated for political posters.
The “Hirak” opposition movement, which emerged from weekly mass protests demanding the entrenched ruling hierarchy quits power, will not support any election until senior officials stand aside.
The men on the ballot all have close links with the establishment and though pushed for reforms, many still see them as part of an entrenched, unchanging elite.
“The election is completely rejected. We won’t accept it. This is why it will be rejected as garbage,” said Smain, a 23-year-old protester who withheld his family name for fear of reprisals.
Protesters flooded the streets of Algerian cities and towns in February as it became clear veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika would seek another term.
Though leaderless, the protesters ousted Bouteflika in April, after the army turned against him and an election scheduled for July was postponed.
The army, under chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, emerged as the most powerful body in Algerian politics as authorities detained Bouteflika allies on corruption charges, jailing some.
The army wants a return to normality and an end to the constitutional limbo in which an interim president holds office.
It and the National Liberation Front (FLN), the party that won independence from France in 1962 and ruled ever since, will not back any candidate in the vote and promised it will be free from interference.
Hirak’s opposition to the election set it up as a showdown over turnout – with the army and ruling establishment hoping for enough participation to ensure the legitimacy of a new president who can move to end protest.
“Nobody knows how the silent majority will behave on the day of the vote,” political analyst Farid Ferrahi said.
“If you are not with Hirak, it doesn’t mean you are with the regime,” he added.
A Western diplomat in Algiers said the five candidates were “the softest version of Bouteflika’s system”.
One, Ali Benflis, was prime minister under Bouteflika but later set up an opposition party and unsuccessfully ran against him in the 2014 election.
Abdelmadjid Tebboune, another former prime minister, was sacked by Bouteflika 90 days after clashing with one of the then president’s allies.
Azzeddine Mihoubi was culture minister under Bouteflika for years. Abdelaziz Belaid was a senior member of FLN. Abdelkader Bengrina, a moderate Islamist, was tourism minister.