Bouteflika to unveil constitutional reforms
Tunis - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has vowed to reveal his long-delayed constitutional changes within the next few weeks.
The declared purpose of the reforms is to shore up stability and establish a multiparty democracy in a country deeply affected by a decade of civil war between Islamist insurgents and a powerful military.
Bouteflika, 78, first announced he would revise the law nine years ago and kept dangling that promise to fuel political debates across the country. As the time passed, Algerians dubbed the awaited draft constitution “Bouteflika’s political ghost”.
But Bouteflika, a canny politician who became president in 1999, had been clearing hurdles out of the way of his planned reforms.
“The draft of the revised constitution aims at protecting freedoms and establishing a more appeased democracy at all levels and spheres including the independence of the judiciary,” Bouteflika said in an address on the commemoration of the beginning of the independence war against French colonial rule on November 1, 1954.
The projected reforms allow a shift of some power from the president to the prime minister, who would be the head of the government. The reforms are expected to expand the role of the legislative body and give more say to the opposition in parliament.
On paper, Algeria’s president enjoys an overwhelming power, leaving limited executive power to the prime minister and a rubber-stamp role to the parliament. In reality, however, power and wealth are shared in a complicated and opaque way within networks of ruling elites in the military, National Liberation Front party and its political allies and influential business families and top government bureaucrats.
The planned constitution revision attempts to “deepen the separation and [complementary role] of the government power bodies as well as strengthening the opposition in parliament to play an active role, including by submission of cases to the constitutional council,” Bouteflika said.
“The approach of the constitutional change seeks to consolidate the national unity and promote the place and role of youth to tackle the millennium challenges and reinforce the respect of citizens’ rights and freedoms as well the independence of the judiciary.”
Bouteflika did not say why it took such long time to revisit the constitution but he appeared to be repeating the experience of his revision of November 2008 when he scrapped the two 5-year terms limit for the president to give himself an indefinite stay in power.
“Bouteflika, who is known to rule with ruse and surprise, strived to dismantle all hurdles which might obstruct the way of his enterprise. The constitution will be revised only when he dismantles all obstacles, not before,” said political analyst Ahcene Bettahar.
Analysts, independents and those close to the government said they expected Bouteflika to move quickly on constitutional reforms after he sidelined dozens of generals, including Mohamed Mediene, known as Toufik, the chief of the military intelligence service, the Department of Research and Security (DRS).
“This group [of generals)] was able and had the resources to ruin the reforms. This group does not exist anymore within the state institutions following various changes made by the president, “a government source told pro-government Algerian TSA website.
Bouteflika sacked Mediene in his latest move to curb the long-serving spy chief’s influence on politics. Mediene had long played the role of political kingmaker, analysts said, influencing leadership choices in the country’s backroom tussles between civilian and military factions within the leadership.
Some Algerians say they expected few changes of substance as they pointed to Bouteflika’s record as an authoritarian leader obsessed with preserving the status quo and one who used huge spending measures to soothe the frustrations of a population reeling from years of violence and mistrust of politicians after a multiparty experiment turned into war in early 1990s.
“This stand of the president’s opponents is dismissed or mitigated by those who think Bouteflika could make good on his pledges of reforms. Because of his health, he will not seek a fifth mandate and might not be able to complete his current term. Expecting nothing from the president job, he could only be in a reform-mind position,” wrote El Watan editorialist Ali Bahmane.
“Algeria after or with Bouteflika at the end of his rule will be a powder keg. If he and his allies are aware of this, he could only rig a bold constitutional revision to give Algeria a tool to build democracy and escape chaos.”