Algeria has set November 1 as a date for a referendum on a new constitution aimed at allowing the army to engage in operations abroad and give the prime minister and parliament a greater role, the presidency announced Monday.
Elected last December, President Abdelmajid Tebboune has repeatedly pledged to introduce political and economic reforms and to meet demands raised in demonstrations that toppled veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 2019.
The new constitution would give the prime minister and parliament more powers to govern the North African country of 45 million people, a draft released earlier this year showed.
Regime critics contended the amendments consolidate presidential powers as well.
The suggested amendments are not seen as changing much in the nature of the system. Lawyer and human rights activist Tarek Marah takes issue with the provisions concerning the Constitutional Court. “The text says that it will be composed mostly of appointed members, while the basis of constitutional courts is to have elected not designated members,” he said.
“We also find that the duties and powers of the president of the republic are the same as in the pre-Bouteflika constitution.”
Marah described the suggested creation of the position of vice-president as “a non-event to all Algerians” because “the position does not mean much as long as the powers of the vice-president are not demarcated in the constitution from those of the president.”
Pro-Hirak lawyer and human rights activist Abdelghani Badi refused to participate in the discussion of the draft constitution in light of what he called in a press statement “the totally inappropriate context,” in reference to the turbulent atmosphere in the country due to the coronavirus pandemic and the prevailing political situation.
He seems to believe the government’s timing in putting forward the draft constitution for discussion shows it is attempting to adopt the changes as quickly as possible, while the public’s attention is diverted.
The proposed constitutional amendments, released by the Algerian presidency last May, include a change to Article 29 of the current constitution, which prohibits the army from engaging in any operations outside the border.
The current article states: “Algeria refrains from resorting to war because of its violation of the legitimate sovereignty and freedom of other peoples, and devotes its efforts to settling international disputes by peaceful means.”
The amendment proposes an added paragraph that says: “Algeria within the framework of the United Nations, the African Union, and the Arab League, and in full compliance with its principles and objectives, can participate in peacekeeping operations abroad.”
A phrase was also added to article 95 regarding the powers of the president: “The President of the Republic decides to send Units of the army abroad, after approval by Parliament, by a two-thirds majority of its members.”
The referendum date was announced after Tebboune’s meeting with the head of the election authority Mohamed Chorfi earlier on Monday, the presidency said in a statement.