Bouteflika opens up about constitutional amendments
Nazim Fethi in Algiers contributed to this report – 31/10/08
A recent statement by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is being widely interpreted by local and international press as a hint that he intends to lift the current two-term presidential limit and run again.
Speaking before hundreds of magistrates gathered at the Supreme Court in Algiers for the opening ceremony of the judicial year on Wednesday (October 29th), the head of state outlined proposed constitutional amendments to be submitted to Parliament.
While he did not directly state his plan to run for re-election, Bouteflika said he seeks changes to the law that will afford Algerians greater power to choose their leaders.
"The third mandate takes shape," headlined El Watan on Thursday. The daily said Bouteflika’s "unsurprising" announcement puts an end to two years of "false suspense". The pro-government El Moudjahid described the announcement as a response to a "popular demand" to lift the two-term presidential limit.
Recalling that he had "on many occasions" expressed his wish "to reform the Constitution when circumstances allowed", Bouteflika explained that "in the light of the experience of recent years…the need to introduce certain urgent corrective measures to some of the provisions of the constitution has proved itself necessary, to guarantee more effective handling of state affairs".
Since taking office in 1999, Bouteflika has talked of reforming the country's primary legal text.
Last year, former Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem suggested a constitutional amendment would come in the form of a referendum; this no longer appears to be the government's preferred option.
One indication was Bouteflika's discussion of Article 176 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the President of the Republic may directly promulgate a law to revise the Constitution – without having to put it to a popular referendum – as long as this reform does not go against principles of governance, change the balance of the powers of institutions or negate human rights.
Bouteflika reassured Algerians that wider reforms of the constitution are still under consideration.
"If the constitutional reforms are postponed", he said in his speech, "that doesn’t mean they are abandoned."
The president also seeks to improve women's political rights and position in Algerian society.
"What has been achieved still falls short of what [women] deserve and what we hope for them," said the president. "We have therefore made sure that the draft constitutional reforms will include a new measure devoted to the promotion of political rights for women and the widening of their representation in elected assemblies at all levels."
The changes must now be approved by the Constitutional Council and passed by Parliament before becoming law. Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said the amendments would probably be enacted before the end of November, ahead of the presidential election next April.
The country's political leaders were quick to react to the president's proposals.
"We support the idea of moving for a second constitutional reform by referendum during President Bouteflika's third term, and we are fully satisfied with the head of state's decision to reform the Constitution through the parliament," said Abdelaziz Belkhadem, leader of the majority National Liberation Front (FLN).
In a published statement, the National Democratic Assembly (RND) also said it welcomed "with great satisfaction the announcement of constitutional reform". Ouyahia’s party added that the proposals will "strengthen the foundations of the state and consolidate the place of women in society as well as their presence on the political scene nationally".
"The RND has been waiting for this project for a very long time," the statement read.
Opposition political groups, however, voiced doubt that the amendments would effect any real change.
"This decision does nothing to change the political, social and economic problems of the Algerian people, nor the challenges facing our country," said Socialist Forces Front (FFS) Secretary Karim Tabou. "The FFS is opposed to this strategy of political and moral retreat."
The Algerian National Front (FNA) also sounded concerns about the fairness of the process.
"Constitutional reform will be delivered like a letter in the post," said FNA Chairman and sole 2009 presidential candidate Moussa Touati. "The amendment will be approved via the parliament."
The secular opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) has been equally sceptical.
"The president of the republic knows full well that the amendment of the constitution will be passed by both chambers in parliament, since the current composition of this institution is already in his favour," said party spokesman Mohamed Khendak.
The RCD accused Bouteflika of wanting to become a "president for life".
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