New Algerian president faces tough challenge

Algerian demonstrators take to the streets in the capital Algiers to reject the presidential elections, in Algiers, Algeria, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (AP)
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Updated 13 December 2019

New Algerian president faces tough challenge

  • 40 percent of voters took part in the poll, enough to demonstrate the legitimacy of the exercise

ALGIERS: Algeria’s new president faces the country’s biggest political crisis in decades, a hostile economic climate and attacks on his legitimacy after winning an election with low turnout opposed by a massive protest movement.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 74, beat the other four candidates — all also former senior officials — to win the race outright with 58 percent of the vote, ensuring there will be no second round.

The authorities hope the election of a new leader will end months of turmoil following the toppling of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose 20-year-rule was brought to an end in April when the army pulled its support after mass demonstrations.

But protesters have dismissed the entire election as a ploy by Algeria’s shadowy, military-backed authorities to quell the months-long uprising and restore the old political order.

As housing minister, Tebboune was responsible for building the tallest mosque in the world, a project the government pushed as a national symbol, and for expanding the state’s generous program of low-cost homes with a million new apartments.

Officials say 40 percent of voters took part in the poll, enough to demonstrate the legitimacy of the exercise.

But protesters and their sympathizers who boycotted the election could dispute Tebboune’s mandate. And, as the protest movement has no clear leadership, it is not clear how Tebboune could negotiate a widely accepted path forward.

Aside from the months-long political crisis, he will also face Algeria’s most difficult economic situation in decades, with declining energy revenues and bitter cuts to state spending.

Energy exports, the source of 95 percent of state revenue, fell 12.5 percent this year. The government has burned through more than half its foreign reserves since energy prices began dropping in 2014, and has approved a 9 percent cut in public spending next year, while keeping politically sensitive subsidies untouched.

It has also approved new investment rules to allow foreign companies to own majority shares in “nonstrategic sectors,” and to make it easier for international oil firms to work with state energy giant Sonatrach.

Tebboune was viewed as a technocrat during his years as a Cabinet minister under Bouteflika. He served as premier in 2017 before being pushed out after less than three months when he fell out with influential business tycoons in the president’s coterie, many of whom are now in prison on corruption charges.

Separate from politics

Like the other candidates, Tebboune has tried to harness the protest movement as a source of support for reform while rejecting its overriding message that the entire ruling elite should go and that the military should quit politics.

He has used the circumstances of his brief premiership in 2017 to polish his credentials as a man of integrity who stood up to Bouteflika. He vowed during the campaign to “separate money from politics.”

However, his own son was also arrested in the purge that followed Bouteflika’s fall and is now also awaiting trial accused of graft. Tebboune supporters said his son’s plight proved his independence from the military-backed authorities.


US calls Iran’s $3m reward to kill Trump ‘ridiculous’

Updated 11 min 11 sec ago

US calls Iran’s $3m reward to kill Trump ‘ridiculous’

GENEVA: A US envoy on Tuesday called an Iranian lawmaker’s offer of a $3 million reward to anyone who killed US President Donald Trump “ridiculous” and said it pointed to the “terrorist underpinnings” of the Iranian government.
“It’s just ridiculous but it gives you a sense of the terrorist underpinnings of that regime and that regime needs to change its behavior,” Robert Wood, US disarmament ambassador, told reporters in Geneva.