Algeria sets election for September. The military-backed president is expected to seek a 2nd term

FILE - Algeria's President Abdelmajid Tebboune gives a press conference, in Algiers, Algeria, Sunday, 24, 2019. Algeria's presidential campaign is officially starting a week ago with five candidates vying to replace the longtime leader pushed out in April in an ongoing protest movement. Algeria has scheduled this year’s presidential elections for September 7, providing more than five months for first-term President Abdelmajid Tebboune to campaign for a second term to lead the oil-rich north African nation, his office said in a statement on Thursday, March 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum, File)

FILE – Algeria’s President Abdelmajid Tebboune gives a press conference, in Algiers, Algeria, Sunday, 24, 2019. Algeria’s presidential campaign is officially starting a week ago with five candidates vying to replace the longtime leader pushed out in April in an ongoing protest movement. Algeria has scheduled this year’s presidential elections for September 7, providing more than five months for first-term President Abdelmajid Tebboune to campaign for a second term to lead the oil-rich north African nation, his office said in a statement on Thursday, March 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum, File)

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria will hold its next election on Sept. 7, giving first-term President Abdelmajid Tebboune more than five months to campaign should he decide to seek a second term leading the oil-rich north African nation.

Tebboune’s office announced the date in a statement Thursday after meeting with a group that included high-ranking members of Parliament and the constitutional court as well as its independent election authority.

Only Zoubida Assoul of the Union for Change and Progress has come forward to challenge Tebboune, who has not officially announced plans to seek reelection as president of the country of 44 million people which is facing mounting political and economic challenges. The announcement took the nation by surprise as elections in Algeria had been expected to take place in December 2024, raising speculation among observers about the rationale for the change.

Assoul, a 67-year-old lawyer, is best known for defending political prisoners and said three weeks ago in her announcement that she was running because she felt “confident in the possibility of changing the course of things.”

The ballot in September will be the first since the 78-year-old military-backed leader ascended to power in 2019. He emerged the winner in a low-turnout election that December in the aftermath of a popular movement that led to his predecessor’s resignation.

Activists boycotted the vote and stormed polling stations to protest the election and demand a broader overhaul of the political system. After winning with the backing of a powerful general, Tebboune vowed to meet with protesters and fight the corruption they so despised.

He initially freed some jailed youth involved in the “Hirak” protests but throughout his nearly four-and-a-half-year tenure, Algeria has ramped up punishments both for activists and for members of its once-vibrant free press who criticize the government.

Its state spending and the broader economy remain heavily reliant on oil and gas, while inflation, unemployment and food shortages continue to plague its economy, despite a natural gas revenue bump enjoyed at the start of war in Ukraine.

Algeria is among more than 50 countries holding elections in 2024.

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This story corrects that one candidate has come forward to challenge Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune in this year’s election.

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