General Ahmed Gaïd Salah’s anger and disdain for the ongoing popular protests.

While the Army Chief of Staff, General Ahmed Gaïd Salah, and his senior officers become more insistent that a presidential election will be held on or around 15 December, the peoples revolution — the Hirak — and the opposition parties are showing increased opposition to it.

In his latest speech to the nation — his 31st since the Hirak began on 22 February — Gaïd Salah demonstrated his anger and disdain for the country’s widespread and ongoing popular protests.

As the gap between the army chief and the people widens, it looks as if Acting Head of State Abdelkader Bensalah and Karim Younès, may be trying to seek the middle ground. Younès’ dialogue panel made a number of recommendations that might be acceptable to many people wanting to find a compromise solution to the crisis. Gaïd Salah — who is showing no appetite for either compromise or appeasement — has, however, ruled them all out.

Meanwhile Bensalah has ordered the establishment of an independent electoral body to oversee the elections. While Younès is working on how it might be composed, Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati presented two bills to parliament: one to create the independent electoral authority; the other to reform the electoral law.

In spite of the government moving at breakneck speed towards an election, there are major obstacles in the way. Besides the impossibly short time schedule, the Hirak and opposition parties are strongly opposed to it.

This has led several analysts to suggest that the army and government may try and ‘force’ an election. If that happens — which currently appears quite possible — it would be disastrous because it would lead to an illegitimate president, the increased radicalisation of the ‘street’, and a likely intensification of repression and violence from the regime.

Recently there has been a frightening intensification of violence on the part of the state, almost certainly ordered by Gaïd Salah and carried out by state thugs. The security situation also appears more precarious as social anger and unrest escalates across much of the country.

With the government now also having to address next year’s budget, Algeria’s finances suggest that it has very little room for manoeuvre. It will probably have to increase austerity with further cut backs on state expenditures while also having to consider the options of devaluation, printing money, or external borrowing.

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