Bouteflika to unveil constitutional reforms

Friday 06/11/2015
A June 2015 file picture of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

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.”