On 10 December, Algerian former Prime Ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal were sentenced respectively to 15 and 12 years in prison. Others, among them the ministers of industry, Youcef Yousfi and Mahdjoub Bedda, were sentenced to 10 years in prison, along with several businessmen including Ali Haddad and Hassan Larbaoui . 

A few days before, the first-ever televised election debate between the five candidates – all relics of the Bouteflika era – took place in Algeria on 6 December, on the same day protesters held their last Friday rally before the presidential election due on Thursday.

The politico-military leadership

Both these trials and this so-called “historical debate” are masquerades, and many Algerians did not buy into it.

The politico-military leadership has been trying all kinds of subterfuges to convince people that the election is the only way forward and that a vote boycott would constitute a menace to the stability of the country that, according to Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah, may be "entering the dark tunnel of the constitutional void".

While the presidential elections will undoubtedly be held as planned- it has already started abroad - questions remain about how the regime will manage its ongoing crisis of legitimacy. In other words, what is the regime’s next move in the face of the peaceful and massive mobilisation that is showing no signs of abating.

The regime is confronted today with three options. It can continue to disregard people’s demand and count on the exhaustion of the movement, or it can use coercive measures and severely crackdown on the protesters. Lately the security services have been arresting many opposition activists and political figures, and on the eve of the elections, police violently dispersed demonstrators. 

A third option would be to start a negotiation process with the protest movement once a new president is elected. Such a move would allow the politico-military leadership to create a modicum of legitimacy for a president who will be lacking one and also avoid violent repression that might drive the country into a cycle of violence.

The full article was originally published in the Middle East Eye.