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Algerian students take part in a demonstration near the presidential palace in the capital Algiers on May 21, 2019. Algeria's army chief urged demonstrators on May 20 to accept presidential polls set for July 4 to elect a successor to ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Image Credit: AFP

Algiers: Algeria’s rulers are determined to hold presidential polls on July 4, seeing the vote as the only way out of the crisis that forced veteran leader Abdul Aziz Bouteflika to quit after weeks of protests.

But with no credible candidate in sight and criticism from various fronts, including protest leaders, the election appears to be uncertain.

Why is the date debatable?

When Bouteflika resigned on April 2, after weeks of protests against his intention to seek a fifth term, Algeria entered a transition phase.

Under constitutional rules, a vote must be held within 90 days of Abdul Kader Bin Salah being appointed interim president on April 9.

But protest leaders say the interim government and the country’s institutions are tarnished by corruption and include figures from the old guard.

Protesters began rallying on February 22 and have continued their demonstrations since Bouteflika stepped down, demanding the departure of key figures like Bin Salah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.

The demonstrators are also demanding that transitional bodies tasked with dismantling the old guard be set up ahead of any election.

But the army and its chief, General Ahmad Gaid Salah, are adamant that the vote must be held on July 4.

Can the election be held on July 4?

Technically yes, but as the date approaches there are many doubts.

Unlike previous polls, the constitutional council which validates candidates’ applications has not set a deadline for presidential hopefuls to submit their applications.

According to AFP’s calculations the date should be May 24, but officials at the electoral council have been unable to confirm that deadline.

On Monday Gaid Salah urged demonstrators again to accept presidential polls to help Algeria “avoid falling into the trap of a constitutional void”, according to a speech, the text of which was seen by AFP.

Without explicity mentioning July 4, he stressed “the need to accelerate the establishment of an independent body to organise and oversee the elections”.

Parties within the former coalition that backed Bouteflika appear to support a slight change in the constitution in order to delay the vote.

Mohammad Djemai, secretary general of Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front (FLN) party, suggested a short delay to modify the electoral law.

Seddik Chihad, a senior member of the National Rally for Democracy (RND), a longtime ally of the FLN, suggested a delay of between three and six months in comments to AFP.

A major obstacle to holding the election on July 4 has emerged with some mayors and magistrates saying they would not take part in organising the polls.

Who are the candidates?

The interior ministry says that by May 20 it had received 76 application forms without revealing the names of any candidates.

Influential parties such as the FNL and the RND have not designated any candidate and none of the country’s prominent politicians have announced their intention to run.

In line with the constitution, Bin Salah cannot run in the election and Gaid Salah suggested Wednesday he would not seek the top job.

“We have no political ambition aside from serving our country in accordance with our constitutional roles,” he said in a speech.

The main opposition parties have also said they are not interested and the protest leaders are refusing for now to name a candidate.

Can the vote ease the crisis?

With the current standoff between the protest movement and the interim rulers, it is hard to imagine that the vote could be a real way out of a crisis that has lasted more than three months.

“If the election is held on July 4, the president will not have any popular legitimacy (and) I fear... that we will be entering a spiral that will only serve to perpetuate the crisis,” said Zoubir Arous, a sociology professor at the University of Algiers.