ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) – Algeriaâ€™s presidential campaign officially kicked off Sunday with five candidates vying to replace the countryâ€™s longtime leader, who was pushed out in April amid sustained protests.
Two former prime ministers, Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune, are among those running in the Dec. 12 election to succeed former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Big crowds took to the streets Friday for a 39th consecutive week to demand an end to Algeria’s post-colonial political system. Protesters say they don’t trust those currently in power to ensure democratic elections, citing their past links to Bouteflika.
Benflis and Tebboune are considered the favorites of the vote.
The other candidates are: former tourism minister and moderate Islamist Abdelkader Bengrina; former culture minister and current interim secretary of the RND party that was in the governing coalition, Azzedine Mihoubi; and Belaid Abdelaziz, who heads the small El Moustakbel (Future) party thatâ€™s close to the FLN, both of which remain part of the ruling coalition.
In some neighborhoods of Algiers, protesters have hung black trash bags on billboards featuring the candidatesâ€™ portraits, often sprayed with the words â€œelection of shameâ€ and â€œtraitors.â€
Benflis said this week that â€œthis election is not held in ideal conditions, I know that, but I consider it is the shorter and less risky path to get Algeria out of the political impasse caused by the former regime.â€
Tebboune acknowledged the â€œspecial climateâ€ of the electoral process. Speaking on television earlier this month, he justified his candidacy by saying he wanted to â€œput Algeria back on good tracks.â€
â€œSome Algerians are against the election, but I know a majority are for it,â€ he said.
Army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who has emerged as the country’s authority figure, repeatedly vowed that â€œall security conditions will be met so that Algerians can fulfill their electoral duty in full serenity.â€