In Algeria, the decision to bring forward the presidential election arouses surprise and perplexity

The announcement came without justification or explanation

In Algeria, the decision to bring forward the presidential election arouses surprise and perplexity

The announcement came without justification or explanation. A brief press release published Thursday March 21 following a meeting chaired by the Algerian Head of State, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in the presence of the Prime Minister, the heads of the two chambers of Parliament, the Chief of Staff of the army and the president of the Constitutional Court, as if to emphasize the collective nature of the decision. “It was decided to hold an early presidential election, the date of which is set for Saturday, September 7, 2024. The electorate will be convened on June 8, 2024,” the text indicates.

This measure, which brings forward the holding of the vote by three months – initially scheduled for December – completely surprised observers in Algiers. With political life practically frozen and the media forced to be cautious in order to survive, it is on social networks that this astonishment is expressed. “Ma fhemna walou” (“we didn’t understand anything”), one could read in a post on Facebook, summarizing the general perplexity.

The only precedent for an anticipated presidential election in Algeria dates back to September 1998. Notable difference: President Liamine Zeroual then took care to specify that he would not be a candidate. Nothing of the sort in the laconic press release published Thursday, even if Samir Larabi, academic and journalist, ventured to draw the parallel in a post on Facebook: "We do not have a crystal ball, but as things stand present, A. Tebboune will not be a candidate. »

But, for many, to say that the head of state will not run for a second term is to go a bit too fast. Even if it is perplexing, the decision to bring forward the holding of the presidential election is not contrary to the Constitution, which provides in article 91 that the president “may decide to organize an early presidential election”. The question does not arise at the legal level, but at the political level. Mr. Tebboune has, in fact, been campaigning for months and his candidacy does not appear to be seriously contested within the regime. The head of the army, Saïd Chengriha, has even on several occasions ostensibly displayed his support for the current tenant of the El Mouradia palace.

Conservative logic

Political life has been reduced to nothing by the systematic repression carried out since 2020 to stifle Hirak. And within the regime, no figure who could be preferred to Mr. Tebboune has emerged. The Algerian regime, dominated by the army, tends to reappoint the president in office rather than pushing for change. A conservative logic which took a caricatured turn under the presidency of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, maintained at the head of state even though he was clearly incapable of assuming the office, opening the field to the challenge of Hirak.

Aged 78, Mr. Tebboune, who was hospitalized for several months in Germany after contracting Covid-19 at the end of 2020, occupies the field alone. The only rival candidacy announced so far is that of Zoubida Assoul, lawyer and leader of the Union for Change and Progress (UCP), for whom the empty chair policy serves power. However, he will have to succeed in collecting the signatures of 600 elected officials or 75,000 citizens. The decision to anticipate the election will make this task even more difficult for all aspirants.

One of the most popular analyzes on social networks is that the aim of the maneuver is precisely to catch potential candidates off guard by not giving them time to train their campaign teams – which will also have to take place during the month in August, a period of great heat which risks being dissuasive.

Finally, a final reading suggested with caution links this measure to the prospect of a visit to France by Mr. Tebboune, announced for “the end of September, the beginning of October”. Organizing an election in December would have had the consequence of having an Algerian president at the end of his mandate on an official visit to Paris, with the risk of being accused of having gone to seek a “dubbing” in France. By bringing the election forward to September 7, it will be a re-elected president that Emmanuel Macron would meet. If the meeting takes place, some say, in reference to the already missed meetings between the Algerian and French presidents.