ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria’s powerful army chief on Tuesday urged massive participation in a presidential election planned for December, responding for the first time to protests rejecting the planned vote.
The election has been scheduled for Dec. 12 to replace President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who stepped down in April after demonstrations against his 20-year-rule.
But protesters have called for it to be canceled, believing that members of the old ruling elite will manipulate the vote to keep their grip on power. Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Algiers and other cities on Friday to demand the vote be scrapped and remaining Bouteflika-era figures leave power.
“What we noticed in recent days is the intransigence of some parties and their insistence on chanting some tendentious slogans,” a defense ministry statement quoted army chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah as saying at a military base in the southwestern province of Bechar.
“We urge citizens to mobilize massively to make this vote a starting point for the renewal of institutions,” he added. “This will allow the election of a new president with full legitimacy that will enable him to meet the aspirations of the people.”
Gaed Salah said the election would be held under different circumstances from previous votes, which were widely seen as empty exercises to solidify Bouteflika’s grip. The government would no longer be in control of the process, he said.
An independent election authority was set up last week to oversee the vote, instead of the interior ministry which had been in charge of elections in the past.
Gaed Salah played a key role in removing Bouteflika, ordering him to resign and arresting a number of his allies. But some Algerians believe the military’s ultimate aim is to keep in place a system in which it holds extensive power.
Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed, editing by Angus McDowall and Peter Graff