ALGIERS, Algeria (AA) – After bringing the country’s intelligence apparatus under his control, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his ruling party now appear set to institute sweeping changes to Algeria’s constitution.
On Saturday, Bouteflika ordered both houses of parliament to convene on Wednesday to vote on a raft of proposed constitutional amendments.
Last Thursday, a constitutional court gave Bouteflika the green light to present the proposed changes to parliament rather than put them before a public referendum.
Article 176 of Algeria’s national charter states that the president can introduce constitutional amendments without putting them to a public referendum, as long as he has the consent of three-quarters of the members of the two chambers of parliament.
He can only do this, however, the charter adds, as long as the country’s constitutional court rules that the proposed changes “will not affect the general principles that govern Algerian society; human and citizens’ rights and freedoms; the country’s system of checks and balances; or constitutional institutions”.
Passage of the constitutional amendments requires the approval of 454 out of 606 MPs.
– Mathematical certainty
According to observers, pro-government parties currently enjoy a large enough majority to see the proposed changes passed.
“Obtaining the necessary three-quarters of the votes in parliament is mathematically guaranteed,” Elias Bomaltah, a journalist who follows Algerian parliamentary affairs, told Anadolu Agency.
“Pro-government parties — including the National Liberation Front and its coalition partner, the National Democratic Alliance — possess an absolute majority in parliament,” he explained. “They will all say yes to the proposal.”
“As for the opposition parties, they may boycott the session or vote against the amendments — but this won’t stop the amendments from being ratified,” he added.
According to Bomaltah, “While everyone agrees that, in terms of content, the proposed amendments are largely positive, the problem in Algeria is that legislation often differs from actual practice.”
On Jan. 5, the presidency unveiled the proposed constitutional changes, which involve 73 of the current constitution’s 182 articles and call for the addition of 37 new ones.
One week later, the proposed amendments were referred to the constitutional court.
Among the most important amendments is one that will make Amazigh (spoken by Algeria’s sizeable Berber community) the country’s second language after Arabic. Another will set a two-term limit on the presidency, while another will establish an independent body to monitor the electoral process.
Yet another amendment will oblige the president to appoint a prime minister after consulting with the majority in parliament, while another will give parliament the right to discuss international treaties before they are ratified by the president.
In terms of freedoms, the proposed amendments will also criminalize “inhumane” actions against citizens, allow for the organization of peaceful demonstrations, and prevent journalists from being imprisoned because of what they write.
Despite the positive aspects of several of the proposed amendments, opposition parties reject the changes on grounds that they were prepared solely by the ruling regime.
In a recent joint statement, several opposition parties said the entire exercise served to “make the president like a king, who holds all the authority in his hand without being accountable before parliament for the result of his policies”.
Ahmed Ouyahia, director of the president’s office (and secretary-general of the National Democratic Alliance), for his part, declared last Thursday that the plan to amend the national charter was “a compromise project”.
He went on to assert: “We consulted with all sides; those parties that reject the proposed amendments would even reject writing the proposals themselves… [all they can do] is question the legitimacy of the president of the republic.”
Since coming to power in 1999, Bouteflika, 78, has presided over two previous constitutional amendments.
The first was in 2001, whereby he made Amazigh a national — albeit informal — language, while a 2008 constitutional change abolished presidential term limits, allowing him to successfully run for a third term in 2009 and a fourth term in 2014.
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