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Algeria Elects A New President In Controversial Election

Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who has been elected president of Algeria, cast his ballot outside at a polling station in Algiers on Thursday.
Fateh Guidoum

Algerians have elected a new president following the ouster of longtime ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In the controversial election that saw huge protests and a boycott, five candidates with links to the Bouteflika regime squared off and former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune came out ahead.

Tebboune won the election outright with 58.15% of the vote, eliminating the need for a runoff, Algeria's election authority announced Friday. In addition to his stint as prime minister that lasted for less than four months, he also served as Minster of Housing and Minister of Communication.

Bouteflika, who made very few public appearances since suffering a stroke in 2013, resigned in April after a groundswell of protests. He led the country for 20 years. Algeria's military chief, Gaid Salah, eventually demanded that he be declared unfit for office.

The newly elected president reportedly has close ties to Salah, according to The Associated Press.

The head of Algeria's election authority, Mohamed Charfi, said this "begins a new era and a promising stage in the implementation of democracy," according to state media. He added that the "electoral process has lived up to the people's expectations and hopes."

But many Algerians disagree. The turnout in the most recent election was seen as low, at just under 40%, suggesting that the calls to boycott were successful. For example, AP reports that in 2014, turnout was nearly 52%.

Since Bouteflika stepped down, demonstrations have continued in the North African country. Protesters have held up signs with slogans such as "no election with the gangs" and "they must all be removed," as the BBC reported. The demonstrators see this election – stacked with candidates from the old guard – as an attempt to push back their movement and turn back the clock. They did not want to see a vote under the current government.

And amid these rallies, many businessmen and former Bouteflika officials have been arrested. For example, Bouteflika's younger brother Said – who was seen as very powerful during Bouteflika's presidency – is serving a 15-year sentence for corruption.

Said Bouteflika was allegedly responsible for firing Tebboune from his prime minister job. As the AP reports, Tebboune "reportedly made decisions that ran counter to powerful businessmen in Bouteflika's entourage who are now also in prison for graft."

During Tebboune's campaign, he vowed to "separate money from politics," as Reuters reported. In remarks after he was elected, Tebboune vowed that he would not pardon people who were involved in corruption probes.

It's worth noting that Tebboune has a son who was arrested and accused of graft. He is now awaiting trial, according to the wire service.

Tebboune will inherit economic challenges. Algeria's economy is highly reliant on its oil resources. According to Reuters, "energy exports, the source of 95% of state revenue, fell 12.5% this year." The current government has also approved a public spending cuts of nine percent for the coming year.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.