Algeria to change constitution despite low referendum turnout

The proposal to change Algeria's constitution was back by 66.8 per cent of voters, but turnout was the lowest ever

epa08791514 An Algerian man casts his ballot at a polling station during a vote for a revised constitution, in Algiers, Algeria, 01 November 2020.  Algerian voters will decide in a referendum about amendements in the counsitution.  EPA/STR
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Algerians approved a revised version of the country's constitution with two thirds of votes cast, the electoral commission said Monday, despite record low turnout.

The revised constitution passed with 66.8 per cent of the vote, National Independent Elections Authority (ANIE) chief Mohamed Charfi told a press conference. But he had earlier announced turnout of just 23.7 percent, a historic low for a major poll.

Fewer than one in four Algerian voters took part in Sunday’s

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and the powerful military had presented the new constitution as a sign that they had addressed the causes of public anger that prompted mass weekly protests for more than a year.

Burj Khalifa lights up with the Algerian flag

Burj Khalifa lights up with the Algerian flag

But Sunday’s turnout showed lacklustre backing for a vote that many members of the Hirak street protest movement had decried as a sham intended to quash their movement.

The global pandemic may have also constrained voting, with Algeria recording more than 300 new cases on Saturday.

“There is no point in voting. This constitution will not change anything,” said bus driver Hassan Rabia, 30, sitting with two friends at a cafe in central Algiers.

Days before the vote, Mr Tebboune was admitted to a hospital in Germany after saying aides had tested positive for Covid-19 and a cartoon in newspaper El Watan showed a man in a polling booth looking at ballots marked in German rather than Arabic.

Though pro-government media had shown a crowd of young men in one city rushing into a polling station as soon as it opened, voting queues in the capital Algiers were small.

In the Kabylie region, a bastion of support for the Hirak street protest movement and centre of a 1990s Islamist insurgency, demonstrators blocked polling stations, witnesses said.

“It is ‘ulac’ vote here,” said Said Mezouane in the village of Haizer, using the Berber word for ‘no’.

Mr Tebboune has presented the changes as partly addressing the wishes of protesters who forced his predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down after 20 years in office.

But their demands – replacing the ruling elite, the military’s withdrawal from politics and an end to corruption – have at best beenonly partly met.

Many of Mr Bouteflika’s closest allies and other top officials, including his brother Said and the former intelligence chief Mohamed Mediene, as well as major business tycoons, have been jailed on corruption charges.

The new constitution includes presidential term limits and more powers for the parliament and judiciary.

But the military remains the most powerful institution in Algerian politics, though it has played a less prominent role since Tebboune’s election.

The new constitution gives it powers to intervene outside Algeria’s borders, with the generals concerned about insecurity in neighbouring Libya and Mali.