Algiers – Lawmakers named the speaker of the upper house as Algeria’s first new president in two decades Tuesday, after the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika following mass protests.
The election of Abdelkader Bensalah as interim president follows constitutional rules but goes against the demands of demonstrators, who have pushed for him and other top politicians to stand down.
“I want to work towards fulfilling the interests of the people,” Bensalah told parliament on taking up the 90-day interim presidency.
“It’s a great responsibility that the constitution demands of me,” the 77-year-old added.
Opposition parties refused to back Bensalah’s election and boycotted the session, as hundreds of students protested against him in Algiers.
“Resign Bensalah!” they chanted outside the main post office, which has become the focal point of weeks of mass protests in the capital.
Ahead of the parliamentary session, an editorial in pro-government daily El Moudjahid on Tuesday suggested Bensalah should step aside from the presidential post.
He is not only “not tolerated by the citizen movement, which demands his immediate departure, but also by the opposition” and various political groups in both houses of parliament, the newspaper said.
– ‘Voice of the people’ –
On Friday — in the first weekly mass 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.
The protest movement is calling for a new transitional framework that is committed to deep reforms and organising free elections.
Ahead of Bensalah’s appointment, calls continued for the speaker to step down.
“He has to resign, it’s the voice of the people and the people must be right,” said 50-year-old Mourad, an entrepreneur who will protest Friday with his two young daughters.
“They don’t know that there’s democracy… I want to teach them what freedom is,” he added.
Algerians of all ages have rallied since late February against Bouteflika, who resigned a week ago after efforts to appease demonstrators proved fruitless.
But although the 82-year-old’s resignation was celebrated by protesters, they have remained firm in pushing for a wider overhaul of the political system.
Human Rights Watch said Bouteflika’s departure is “at most a first step in ending autocratic rule.”
“During any transitional phase, authorities should fully respect the rights of Algerians to speak, assemble and associate with one another,” the watchdog said in a statement.
Demonstrators in huge numbers have defied a protest ban in Algiers, and HRW on Tuesday called on authorities to overhaul laws “on association and assembly that stifle rights.”