Algeria to choose Bouteflika's interim replacement

AFP , Tuesday 9 Apr 2019

File Photo: A general view of the upper parliament chamber is pictured in Algiers, Algeria February 2, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

Algerian lawmakers are set to confirm an interim replacement for Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Tuesday after the ailing president resigned last week in the face of massive protests.

The constitution stipulates that the speaker of the upper house of parliament -- currently 77-year-old Abdelkader Bensalah -- take the presidential reins for the next 90 days.

But with protesters demanding an overhaul of the political system, the interim leader's identity may not be a foregone conclusion.

On Friday -- in the first weekly protest since Bouteflika announced his departure after losing the military's support -- Algerians demanded regime stalwarts be excluded from the political transition.

Three men in particular have drawn ire: Bensalah, head of the constitutional council Tayeb Belaiz and prime minister Noureddine Bedoui.

Protesters' views appear to have registered with the regime.

An editorial in pro-government daily El Moudjahid on Sunday suggested Bensalah be relieved of his duties as upper house speaker, so as to preclude him from becoming interim president.

It suggested finding a "consensus" candidate acceptable to both the state and the people.

But the regime mouthpiece did not come up with any names.

Army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah insists Bouteflika's succession must adhere strictly to the constitutional framework.

But the protesters "want it done outside the constitution", said Rashid Grim, who teaches political science at the Higher Institute of Management and Planning in Algiers.

The protest movement is calling for a new transitional framework that is committed to deep reforms and organising free elections.

In the increasingly probable event of Bensalah's withdrawal, his successor as upper house speaker would be in line to become interim president.

But Bensalah and "all other upper house members will be rejected by the streets", Grim told AFP.

And if the speakership of the upper house is left vacant, the constitution stipulates the similarly unpalatable Belaiz becomes interim president.

"This is where there is a real problem," Grim said.

"If the army doesn't soften its position, we head towards a breakdown and difficulty in controlling the streets", he warned.

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