Algeria’s presidential debate falls flat, as anger simmers

Algerian presidential candidate Abdelkader Bengrina addresses supporters at a campaign event in the capital Algiers, on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2019

Algeria’s presidential debate falls flat, as anger simmers

  • Journalists posed questions to the candidates concerning their political and economic plans, unemployment, those who risk their lives to migrate to Europe, education, foreign policy, etc

ALGIERS: Algeria’s first-ever presidential debate seems to have failed to persuade the country’s pro-democracy protesters to take part in next week’s election.

The five candidates recited their platforms instead of sparring over ideas in the Friday night debate — and they did not even look at each other.

Members of Algeria’s 10-month-old protest movement shrugged off the exercise as a farce. They pushed out long-serving President Abdelaziz Bouteflika earlier this year, and now want a whole new political system. They oppose the election altogether because it is organized by Algeria’s power structure, and they see the candidates as part of a corrupt and out-of-touch elite.

Students plan new protests Tuesday ahead of the first round of the election Thursday.

In the debate, the candidates — including former Prime Ministers Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune — responded to the same questions posed by four journalists.

The questions concerned their political and economic plans, unemployment, Algerians who risk their lives to migrate to Europe, education, health and foreign policy.

“We saw five candidates answering like automatons ... as if it were an oral examination,” said journalism professor Djamel Mouafia.

Other commentators called it a missed opportunity for Algeria’s leadership to show they’re trying to be more transparent and democratic.

Criticism exploded on social media, notably from protesters.

“Before promising to defend freedoms, the candidates should have first denounced the mass arrest of protesters of the people’s movement,” activist Hirak Abdelmadjid Benkaci wrote on his Facebook page.

The candidates had kind words for the peaceful movement, without directly addressing its demands for wholesale change.

Benflis said he chose to seek the presidency “knowing that all conditions are not met.”

“But if I am elected, my top priority would be to engage in a dialogue with the opponents of the presidential election. They have the right to have a point of view contrary to mine, but we must come together to reflect on political reforms,” according to the former prime minister.


Iran backtracks on plan to send flight recorders to Ukraine

Updated 26 min 14 sec ago

Iran backtracks on plan to send flight recorders to Ukraine

  • An Iranian official said “the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out”
  • He said Iran is working to recover the data and cabin recordings, and that it may send the flight recorders to Ukrain or France

TEHRAN: The Iranian official leading the investigation into the Ukrainian jetliner that was accidentally shot down by the Revolutionary Guard appeared to backtrack Sunday on plans to send the flight recorders abroad for analysis, a day after saying they would be sent to Kyiv.
Hassan Rezaeifar was quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency as saying “the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out.”
He said Iran is working to recover the data and cabin recordings, and that it may send the flight recorders — commonly known as black boxes — to Ukraine or France. “But as of yet, we have made no decision.”
The same official was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday as saying the recorders would be sent to Ukraine, where French, American and Canadian experts would help analyze them. Iranian officials previously said the black boxes were damaged but are usable.
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the conflicting accounts. Iran may be hesitant to turn over the recorders for fear that more details from the crash — including the harrowing 20 seconds between when the first and second surface-to-air missiles hit the plane — will come to light.
The Guard’s air defenses shot the plane down shortly after it took off from Tehran on Jan. 8, killing all 176 people on board. Hours earlier, the Guard had launched ballistic missiles at US troops in Iraq in response to the US airstrike that killed Iran’s top general in Baghdad. Officials say lower-level officers mistook the plane for a US cruise missile.
Iranian officials initially said the crash was caused by a technical problem and invited countries that lost citizens to help investigate. Three days later, Iran admitted responsibility after Western leaders said there was strong evidence the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile.
The victims included 57 Canadian citizens as well as 11 Ukrainians, 17 people from Sweden, four Afghans and four British citizens. Most of those killed were Iranians. The other five nations have demanded Iran accept full responsibility and pay compensation to the victims’ families.
The plane was a Boeing 737-800 that was designed and built in the US The plane’s engine was designed by CFM International, a joint company between French group Safran and US group GE Aviation. Investigators from both countries have been invited to take part in the probe.