Ex-PM elected Algeria’s new president, to protesters’ dismay

International
Abdelmadjid Tebboune

Newly elected Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune speaks during a press conference Friday, Dec.13, 2019 in Algiers. Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former prime minister and loyalist of the influential army chief, was declared the oil-rich nation’s new president in an election boycotted by members of the vibrant pro-democracy movement. (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum,)

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ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria newly-elected president Abdelmadjid Tebboune vowed after his victory was announced Fridayto reach out to pro-democracy protesters, who massively took to the streets to challenge his election at the head of the oil-rich nation crippled by rampant corruption.

Tebboune, a 74-year-old former prime minister, received 58.15% of the vote, according to results made public Friday by the head of the National Independent Electoral Authority, Mohamed Charfi. Turnout in Thursday’s electionwas just 41%, reflecting the frustration of many Algerians who had hoped to see new faces among the candidates.

In a symbolic move, Tebboune’s first words after the electoral authority’s announcement went to members of the vibrant pro-democracy movement that began in February and boycotted the election.

In a press conference, he said he is ready to meet with the protesters’ leaders to “listen to them (and) take care of their concerns.”

He said he will make it a priority to revise the constitution to establish a “new Algeria” that corresponds to the aspirations of the movement. He said the project will be put to a referendum.

Tebboune vowed to fight the “corruption which has infected the Algerian state” and to clean up politics, saying he wants to put a definitive end to links with dirty money.

He promised to include “young men and young women” in his new government.

Tebboune also paid tribute to the Algerian military and its army chief Gaid Salah, for handling the protest movement for nine months “without bloodshed.”

Considered close to Salah, a much-criticized figure among members of the protest movement, Tebboune served briefly as prime minister in 2017 under ex-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Bouteflika was ousted in April by peaceful protests that have been called Algeria’s Arab Spring.

Tebboune’s election disappointed protesters who believe the poll was rigged in favor of the old regime.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets on Friday to demand a “free and democratic” Algeria and reject the vote results, chanting “No to elections of shame” and denouncing alleged fraud.

The largely peaceful marches took place in the capital, Algiers, as well as in Oran, Constantine and other cities. Some were quickly dispersed by police. Algerian media reported numerous arrests.

Algeria is one of the most youthful countries in the world, with two-thirds of the population under 30. A quarter of those youths are out of work, leading to discontent with the country’s veteran rulers.

The electoral authority was recently created in an attempt at transparency in a nation where leaders have been thought to be chosen in advance by the elite.

This election’s low turnout compares to the nearly 52% in 2014, when Bouteflika won with 81% of the vote.

Former minister Abdelkader Bengrina came in second in Thursday’s vote with 17%, with former Prime Minister Ali Benflis third with 10%.

The president-elect, who endured insults and protests during the 22-day campaign, has already suffered setbacks. The man in charge of Tebboune’s campaign financing, Omar Alilat, has been jailed on corruption charges. And Tebboune’s son will be questioned Dec. 5 in a drug case, according to Algeria’s national television.

Tebboune held ministerial posts in successive Bouteflika governments, responsible for issues including communications and urbanism. He was prime minister between May and August 2017 but was fired by Said Bouteflika, the ex-president’s younger brother, who was convicted in September on corruption charges and is serving 15 years in prison. Tebboune reportedly made decisions that ran counter to powerful businessmen in Bouteflika’s entourage who are now in prison for graft.

Tebboune during his campaign tried to put forward an image of a man who went after oligarchs in Said Bouteflika’s circle, but he had a hard time making voters forget his ties to the Bouteflika clan.

For two decades, Algeria was ruled by Bouteflika and other survivors of the 1954-1962 War of Independence against colonial power France.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday refrained from congratulating Algeria’s president-elect, instead saying that “I simply wish the aspirations Algerian people expressed are answered in a dialogue that must open between authorities and the population.”

Macron added that “it’s Algerians’ responsibility to find the ways and means in the context of a real democratic dialogue.”

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Corbet reported from Paris. Elaine Ganley and Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed.

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