Algerian presidential candidate Abdelaziz Belaid stated that for the first time ever, the people will head to next month’s polls without knowing beforehand the name of victor.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said: “The military is allowing them to elect their president with complete freedom.”
The head of the Front El Moustakbel (Future Front) party is one of five candidates running in the December 12 polls to succeed Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who stepped down in April following mass protests against his bid for a fifth term in office.
The rallies have continued, with demonstrators demanding a complete overhaul of the north African country’s political elite.
Belaid, who belongs to a youth organization that supported the former president, remarked that the people are “confused” ahead of the elections because they have not received indirect signals from ruling parties over who to vote for.
Every presidential candidate claims that he has the backing of the army, he added. “I on the other hand, prefer to have the backing of the people.”
Moreover, he noted that army commander Ahmed Gaed Salah had vowed that he will not be biased towards any candidate.
“At any rate, the military is the only well-organized institution and it is the country’s backbone. It is therefore natural for it to have an opinion over such a fateful issue as the presidential elections, similar to what takes place in other countries with prestigious democracies,” Belaid added.
He said however, that he strongly believes that it does not back a single candidate against the other in the elections.
Contrary to allegations, the military chief does not interfere in political affairs. All he did was monitor the popular protests until it met its demands, continued Belaid.
“The army finds itself at the heart of governance when the politicians fail in their duties,” he explained. “The army is seeking the unity of the country.”
“For our part, we must preserve the military and refrain from targeting it as others are doing,” Belaid added in reference to some political parties that are allegedly inciting protesters against the army.
He hailed Gaed Salah for “doing what no one has ever done before him” in pressuring Bouteflika to resign. He also lauded him for imprisoning figures suspected of corruption.
Campaigning for the presidential elections is set to kick off on November 17. Protesters on Friday have vowed to prevent candidates from campaigning.
Belaid rejected such a move, saying: “Does this mean that they believe in democracy when it only serves their goals?”
“Who gave them the right to prevent me from running for the elections, voting and waging a campaign?”
“They have the right to boycott the elections, but I am also free to go against the trend,” he stressed. “This does not mean that I am opposed to the protests. I support elections because it is the only way forward to resolve our crisis.”
Observers predict voter turnout to be low, given that the masses refuse to hold the elections.
“Even if I were to be elected president, I refuse to rule over people who boycotted the polls,” Belaid said. “But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Let the people determine their fate through the ballot boxes.”
“Even in the greatest of democracies, voter turnout barely climbs above 50 percent,” he remarked. “Given the circumstances in the country, we must not expect the turnout to be high.”
Belaid is vying for the presidency alongside former prime ministers Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune, both considered the front-runners, former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrina, whose party backed Bouteflika, and leader of the Democratic National Rally party (RND), Azzedine Mihoubi.