Algeria announces early legislative election after referendum

The turnout for the November 1 referendum will be a major test for Tebboune and a harbinger of the level of participation in the early legislative vote.
Monday 21/09/2020
Outside view of the Algerian parliament building. (AFP)
Outside view of the Algerian parliament building. (AFP)

ALGIERS--Algeria will hold early legislative elections after a referendum on a new constitution planned for November 1, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said on Sunday.

Elected last December, Tebboune has pledged to carry out political and economic reforms to meet demands raised during mass protests that forced the resignation of veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 2019.

The current parliament was elected in 2017 for five years, with Bouteflika’s allies holding an overwhelming majority.

“We will organise legislative elections after the referendum,” Tebboune said on state television, without giving a date.

Earlier this month, Algeria’s parliament adopted constitutional reforms, a flagship initiative of President Abdelmajid Tebboune aimed at responding to the demands of the country’s Hirak protest movement.

But Hirak-linked activists are not convinced the amendments reflect a true desire for change on the part of the government.

The amended constitution was approved by 256 of the 462 members present in the People’s National Assembly.

The reforms will be put to a referendum on November 1, the anniversary of the start of Algeria’s 1954-1962 war of independence from France.

“The proposal is fully in line with the requirements of modern state building and responds to the demands of the popular movement (Hirak),” Tebboune said.

The government pledged the reforms would bring a “radical change in the system of governance,” prevent corruption and enshrine social justice and press freedoms in the constitution.

The revision also sets out to reinforce the “principle of separation of powers, ethics in political life and transparency in the management of public funds,” so as to “spare the country any drift toward tyrannical despotism,” it added.

Tebboune had promised to press for reforms during elections late last year after the resignation of longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika under pressure from the Hirak movement, which widely rebuffed the polls.

According to information made public by state media, the proposed constitutional revisions would limit presidential and parliamentary mandates to two terms (5 years each), establish a special body to manage underdeveloped regions and authorise the military to conduct missions abroad, in a break from the army’s traditional policy of non-intervention in foreign lands.

Military interventions abroad must be approved by two-thirds of parliament members and would take place under the supervision of the United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League.

The constitutional changes would make it mandatory for the president to choose the prime minister from the parliamentary majority rather than pick any politician as he can now.

They would also scrap a previously considered change that would have created the position of vice-president.

In a nod to the Hirak movement, there is also a proposal to commemorate the pro-democracy movement for its role in ousting Boueflika on April 2, 2019 and leading the country on a new path.

The constitutional amendments would ban the suspension of media activity and dissolution of political parties and associations “except by judicial ruling.”

The turnout for the November 1 referendum will be a major test for Tebboune and a harbinger of the level of participation in the early legislative vote.

While the president had made some inroads with the opposition by affirming their right to protest and backing calls for reform, a recent government crackdown on political opponents, independent media and activists has since drawn their ire.

Some pro-Hirak parties and groups have already dismissed the constitutional move as an attempt to create a “laboratory constitution” and slammed the referendum as “treachery.”

Since the weekly Hirak protests were halted in March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, political opponents, independent media and activists have also been targets of a crackdown.