Algerian president dissolves parliament to reshuffle cabinet

Tebboune ordered the release of scores of detainees amid calls on social media to stage street marches in Algiers next week to mark the second anniversary of the Hirak demonstrations.
Friday 19/02/2021
A video grab from Algeria 3 public channel shows Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune giving a televised speech in which he called for the dissolution of parliament and early elections, on February 18, 2021. (AFP)
A video grab from Algeria 3 public channel shows Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune giving a televised speech in which he called for the dissolution of parliament and early elections, on February 18, 2021. (AFP)

ALGIERS--Algeria’s president announced Thursday he would reshuffle the government and dissolve parliament to pave the way for new elections and ordered amnesty for scores of protesters whose pro-democracy movement pushed out his predecessor two years ago.

Dozens of other protesters remain jailed, and activists continue to demand deeper change to Algeria’s secretive, military-controlled leadership structure.

In a speech on national television Thursday night, President Abdelmajid Tebboune said that within 48 hours he would replace government ministers “who didn’t live up to their responsibilities,” without specifying whom.

He didn’t set a date for new parliamentary elections, but encouraged young people to run for office and promised to cover their campaign costs, without elaborating.

A new parliament and a greater voice for young people were among demands of the Hirak protest movement, which is marking its second anniversary on Monday. Many protesters feel Tebboune’s gestures so far have been largely cosmetic, and note he is a product of the long-time political elite.

Tebboune himself disappeared from public view for months after contracting the coronavirus. He returned from a second hospital stay in an undisclosed location in Germany last week, and invited opposition parties to political consultations, according to a statement from his office.

The current parliament was elected in May 2017 for a five-year term. But the elections were marred by accusations of mass fraud, notably targeting the majority parties FLN and RND, who supported former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The former FLN chief, Djamel Ould Abbas, is currently in prison for illegal campaign financing.

New electoral rules ordered by Tebboune would aim to limit electoral fraud, change voting methods and require an equal number of women and men candidate in cities larger than 20,000 people.

 The Hirak factor 

Tebboune said in his speech 55-60 detainees would be released immediately, a demand that has been repeatedly raised by the leaderless protest movement known as Hirak.

The release of the detainees comes amid calls on social media to stage street marches in the capital Algiers to mark the second anniversary of the demonstrations next week.

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets on Tuesday in the eastern town of Kherrata, the first protests since the government banned marches in March last year as part of measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have vowed to meet all demands raised by the Hirak,” Tebboune said in the speech.

Thursday’s announcements come as Algeria is struggling economically because of a protracted slump in oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic. The country is heavily dependent on gas and oil revenue.

The North African OPEC member country has been under financial pressure due to a sharp fall in energy earnings, forcing the government to cut spending and delay some planned investment projects.

Elected in December 2019, Tebboune has vowed to take steps aimed at diversifying the economy away from oil and gas, which account for 60% of the state budget and 94% of total export revenue.