Algerian Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui will resign soon to pave the way for elections this year the army sees as the only way to end a standoff over months of protests, two senior sources told Reuters.
Bedoui’s departure is a major demand of protesters, who forced president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit after 20 years in office in April and reject fresh elections until there is a change of the power structure.
Bedoui’s departure is intended to “facilitate” elections said the senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Saleh said the electoral commission should by September 15 call an election, triggering a 90-day countdown to the vote.
Students holding a weekly protest chanted they would accept no elections “until the gang is removed”, a reference to Bouteflika’s power circle, an elite entrenched largely since independence from France in 1962.
Sources close to prominent figures including former Prime Minister Mouloud Hamrouche and human rights lawyer Mustapha Bouchachi said they are considering running if the election is called.
Mass demonstrations began in February and continued since Bouteflika’s departure, with the loose-knit “Herak” movement demanding all figures associated with him also leave and the army have a smaller role in state affairs.
The election was scheduled for July, but postponed as a result of the crisis, leaving major oil- and gas-exporter Algeria in a constitutional deadlock.
Over the summer authorities made concessions arresting more prominent figures linked to Bouteflika on corruption charges and increasing pressure on protesters with a bigger police presence at demonstrations.
Herak has no formal leaders, making it hard to negotiate with. “We will not stop protests, this is our chance to uproot the corrupt system,” Khelifa Saad (20) said at a protest in Algiers.
Two sources familiar with Hamrouche said he was expected to run for president, though he has made no formal announcement yet.
Hamrouche (76) headed government from 1989 to 91, departing months before the military cancelled a 1992 parliamentary election a radical Islamist party was poised to win, plunging Algeria into a civil war that claimed 200 000 lives.
A candidate in the 1999 presidential election, he withdrew at the last minute after senior figures endorsed Bouteflika.
Hamrouche presents himself as a reformer, seeking better governance and economic diversification and as a consensus choice. He would seek the support of the army, the formal opposition and protesters.
Sources inside Bouchachi’s circle said he would run if Bouteflika’s allies were removed from power and an independent body set up to oversee the vote.
Bouchachi, a 65-year-old former member of parliament, human rights activist and lawyer, is prominent on social media after backing protesters since February.
He was elected to parliament in 2012 as a member of Algeria’s oldest opposition party Front des Forces Socialistes (FFS), but resigned in two years saying government was not serious about reform.
“Bouchachi can secure the voices of tens of thousands of protesters,” said electronics student Ali Larbaoui, who marches most Fridays since protests began.
Another former prime minister, Ahmed Benbitour (73) who resigned in 1999 after opposing Bouteflika’s economic policy, is considering a presidential run, a supporter said.
The crisis has hit Algeria’s economy, with official data showing one in four of under-30s, 70% of the population, is unemployed.
Foreign currency reserves, built up during periods of higher oil prices, are falling.