Algeria holds a constitutional referendum despite criticism of what

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Algeria celebrate this Sunday a referendum about the new Constitution of the country, arising from the work begun after the coming to power of Abdelmayid Tebune in December following the resignation in April 2019 of the historic Algerian leader Abdelaziz Buteflika, after weeks of mobilizations at the national level against his intention to run for a fifth term.

Tebune, who after his victory in an election rejected by the protesters, who demanded the cancellation of the vote and the removal from power of people from the Buteflika circle for a real change, reached out his hand to ‘Hirak’ – popular movement– and he promised to undertake a reform of the Magna Carta to respond to the demands of the population.

Thus, the president, who was prime minister between May and August 2017 and who, according to the opposition, had the support of the Army in his candidacy for the presidency, called for “deep” modifications in the constitutional document and created in January a expert committee charged with submitting proposals, amid skepticism from protesters and opposition.

However, Tebune’s call for dialogue partly divided the opposition, while restrictions imposed since March because of the coronavirus pandemic have limited public rejection of the reform plans, in which they have not representatives of the opposition or civil society have been included.

During the announcement of the creation of the aforementioned committee, the Algerian president said that the revision of the Constitution was “the cornerstone for the construction of a new Republic” with the aim of “favoring the emergence of new modes of governance and laying the pillars of the new Algeria “.

Tebune has since shielded itself from the constitutional reform to present an image of change and has made statements praising the mobilizations against Buteflika, while denouncing on numerous occasions the cases of corruption and abuse of power during his 20-year mandate.

On the contrary, the reality on the ground seems to have undergone little change and the arrests of protesters and activists have occurred in recent months, which has set off alarms and reinforced the denunciations of the ‘Hirak’, who continues to demand a change deep in the political class of the country.

These criticisms have been reinforced since the draft Constitution was unveiled, which contemplates few changes with respect to the previous text and reinforces the powers of the Presidency and the Army, so the opposition and civil society continue to insist that the modifications applied Since the fall of Buteflika, they have not gone beyond cosmetic gestures that do not address the fundamental problems that caused the mobilizations.

A campaign without opposition voices

Both the Government and the Army have launched various calls for participation in recent weeks and have praised that the new text responds to the demands of the protesters, fearing that the referendum will suffer the same evil as the presidential elections in December, when Tebune’s election was marred by a turnout of nearly 40 percent, the lowest in the country’s history.

In fact, the country has been experiencing a decrease in these figures – in 2014 it was 50.7 percent and in 2009 it was 74.56 -, reflecting the increase in the population’s rejection of the political system, which is why The authorities have invested a large part of their communication work to encourage citizens to go to the polls and to support the transition process.

In this sense, the Prime Minister of Algeria, Abdelaziz Yerad, was confident this week that the population “will give their support” to the project and defended that the document “completes the process of building the State”, a message that has been repeated during the last weeks by various members of the Executive.

For his part, the head of the Army, Said Chanegriha, showed on October 22 his conviction that the “proud people” of Algeria “will come en masse on November 1 to participate in the referendum” to “make their sovereign voice be heard in the proposed amendments, aborting the plans of all those who monitor the security and stability “of the country.

The date of November 1 is also loaded with symbolism, since during this day the beginning of the War of Independence is commemorated in 1954, a conflict that ended in 1962 with the independence of the country from France, the metropolis. In fact, the campaign slogan for the referendum has been ‘November 1954: Liberation. November 2020: Change ‘.

The official message has found an important loudspeaker in the Algerian state media, which in recent weeks have published numerous messages from ministers and other authorities in favor of participation, while the voices critical of the amendments have received practically no space.

An example of this situation was the controversy triggered by the statements of the Minister of Youth and Sports, Alí ​​Jaldi, who stated during the campaign that “those who are not satisfied with the situation in Algeria can go to live in another country”, with the critics emphasizing that it is a confirmation of the lack of acceptance of dissent in the African country.

Constitutional amendments

The project proposes a series of amendments to the current Magna Carta and includes in its preamble a declaration of intent on responding to the “aspirations for a profound change at the political and social level for the construction of a new Algeria” during the mobilizations of the last months.

Along these lines, it includes an article that obliges the authorities to respect the Constitution in relation to the rights and freedoms of the population and prohibits any limitation of freedom of the press, while preventing the modification of the status of Tamazight as an official language and expands women’s rights. On the other hand, it highlights that the legislation should not impede the freedom to create political parties and trade unions and includes the right of citizens to present petitions.

However, critical voices have highlighted that the wording of these articles is too diffuse and does not set clear limitations to protect these rights, while expanding the role of the Army, which they say “defends the vital and strategic interests” of the country. and authorizes for the first time that it participate in peace operations abroad, something attributed to the concern generated by the crisis in neighboring Libya.

The amendments include the limitation of presidential terms to two, successive or separate and five years each, and require the president to appoint a prime minister from the party with greater parliamentary representation, although the head of state will continue to maintain broad powers and will be able to elect the Government, a third of the Senate and the high positions in the apparatus of justice and the security forces.

Finally, it reinforces the tasks of preventing and fighting corruption, including the declaration of assets at the end of the mandate of all people elected to public office, in an attempt to respond to this problem, one of the main evils that the population blames the political and economic leadership, known as ‘Le Pouvoir’, especially during the Presidency of Buteflika.

However, the referendum, one of Tebune’s main political projects, will be held without his presence because he is hospitalized in Germany after several of his advisers tested positive for coronavirus. The Presidency has assured that he is “stable”, without confirming the reasons for his admission.

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