By Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algerian lawmakers late on Wednesday elected an Islamist opposition figure as chairman of parliament under pressure from mass protests demanding the departure of the ruling elite.
The parliament elected Slimane Chenine of the Movement of National Construction party to replace Moad Bouchareb from the National Liberation Front (FLN), which has ruled Algeria since independence from France in 1962.
Bouchareb resigned a week ago, three months after Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit as president, also pressurized by demonstrators seeking democratic reforms and government personnel changes.
Chenine, 47, is the youngest lawmaker to be elected as head of the National Assembly and his party has only 15 out of a total of 462 seats in parliament, where the FLN and its coalition partners have an overwhelming majority.
“We have a majority in the assembly but the party decided to contribute to the superior interest over the party’s interest,” FLN lawmakers said in a statement after a meeting with the party leader Mohamed Djemai.
“Due to the current situation in our country, we prefer Algeria over our interests,” said FLN lawmaker Abdelhamid Si Afif.
The National Liberation Front has 160 seats and has monopolised the parliament presidency for a long time with the backing of other pro-government political parties.
“We have decided to back Chenine in order to get out of the crisis and go to fair presidential elections as soon as possible,” said lawmaker Fouad Benmerabet from the Democratic National Rally (RND), the main partner of FLN.
Protesters forced Bouteflika to resign on April 2 after two decades in power, and the army is now the main player in Algeria’s politics.
Army chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah has repeatedly vowed to meet protesters’ demands including helping the judiciary to prosecute officials suspected of involvement in corruption.
Several senior officials including former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyhia and Abdelmalek Sellal have been placed in custody for “dissipation of public funds.”
Protesters are demanding the resignation of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, who are regarded by demonstrators as part of the old guard.
The government has postponed a presidential election previously planned for July 4, citing a lack of candidates. No new date has been set for the vote.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; editing by Grant McCool)