The head of an Algerian political party that was part of the ruling coalition under former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Wednesday became the first candidate to register for presidential polls.
Azzedine Mihoubi, leader of the Democratic National Rally party (RND), submitted his candidacy for the December 12 vote to the National Independent Elections Authority, recently formed to oversee the vote.
A minister of culture in three governments under Bouteflika from 2015 to 2019, Mihoubi assumed leadership of the RND in July after its former head was arrested in a corruption probe.
The mass protest movement that forced Bouteflika’s resignation in April has rejected moves, backed by the army, to hold the poll in December.
Activists are demanding sweeping reforms before any vote takes place, and say Bouteflika-era figures still in power must not use the presidential poll as an opportunity to appoint his successor.
Observers are predicting a weak turnout.
Mihoubi acknowledged the challenge in a statement as he submitted his candidacy along with the required 50,000 signatures endorsing him.
“The most important thing for us is not to convince people to give their signature but to participate in this vote, which remains the only solution to this crisis,” he said.
The Hirak protest movement was formed in February to demand that Bouteflika resign instead of running for a fifth term. It has demanded transitional institutions to replace Algeria’s entire system of government, in place since independence from France in 1962.
Authorities have rejected these demands, but protests continue.
Polls planned for July 4 were postponed due to a lack of viable candidates, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis, as interim president Abdelkader Bensalah’s mandate expired that month.
Bensalah, also an RND member, was speaker of the Upper House for 17 years under Bouteflika.
The RND was founded in 1997 and for 20 years was the main ally of Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front (FLN).
The RND supported Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth term, despite him suffering a debilitating stroke in 2013, but his candidacy prompted massive protests that led to his departure.
Until recently, the RND was led by Ahmed Ouyahia, an unpopular three time former prime minister under Bouteflika who was arrested in June in a graft investigation.
Mihoubi’s nomination prompted a flood of negative comments online.
Five other candidates have made appointments to submit their candidacy to the elections authority, spokesman Ali Draa told AFP.
Local media reports indicate that they include two former Bouteflika era prime ministers, Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
The deadline for submitting applications is Saturday at midnight (2300 GMT).