Algeria’s constitutional changes to scrap VP post, introduce term limits

As expected, amendments would authorise the military to conduct missions abroad.
Monday 07/09/2020
A file picture shows an Algerian soldier standing guard at the Tiguentourine gas complex, in In Amenas, about 1,600 kilometres southeast of the capital. (AFP)
A file picture shows an Algerian soldier standing guard at the Tiguentourine gas complex, in In Amenas, about 1,600 kilometres southeast of the capital. (AFP)

ALGIERS - Algeria’s government has put forward draft constitutional amendments it says will improve state functions and meet long awaited calls for reform by the pro-democracy Hirak protest movement.

Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune said the revisions, which include allotting greater powers to parliament, the premier and the judiciary, as well as strengthening political freedoms, are “fully in line with the requirements of modern state building and responds to the demands of the popular movement (Hirak).”

The changes will bring “radical change in the system of governance,” halt corruption and enshrine social justice and press freedoms in the constitution, he said, while also ensuring the “principle of separation of powers and balance of power, the moralisation of political life and transparency in the management of public funds,” so as to “spare the country any drift toward tyrannical despotism.”

According to information made public by state media, the proposed revisions would limit presidential and parliamentary mandated 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.

Interventions 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 longtime President Abdelaziz 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 changes would prevent the minister of justice and the president of the supreme court from membership of the Higher Judicial Council. They would also create a Constitutional Court to replace the Constitutional Council to oversee the outcome of elections and the constitutionality of laws and international treaties.

The revised text must first be approved next Thursday by parliament — where it is expected to easily pass — before being put to a national referendum on November 1, which marks the start of Algeria’s war of independence from France.

The referendum will be a major test for Tebboune, who has weathered calls by protesters for overarching reform and an overhaul of the country’s ruling elite since assuming office in December.

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.”

Tebboune says, if approved, the new text “will require adapting a number of laws to the new stage as part of a comprehensive reform of the state and its institutions.”