Algeria's government adopts draft constitutional reforms

Reforms were promised under pressure from the country’s Hirak protest movement, which has criticised the proposal

A demonstrator holds up a banner during an anti-government protest in Algiers, Algeria February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
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Algeria’s government has adopted draft constitutional revisions aimed at responding to the demands of the country’s Hirak protest movement, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has said.

“The proposal is fully in line with the requirements of modern state-building and responds to the demands of the popular movement [Hirak],” Mr Tebboune said late on Sunday, according to a statement.

Mr Tebboune had promised to press for reforms during elections late last year after the resignation of long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika under pressure from the movement, which widely rebuffed the polls.

The revised text must still be approved by parliament – a formality – before it is put to a popular referendum on November 1, the anniversary of the start of Algeria’s 1954-1962 war of independence from France.

In the statement, the government pledged the reforms would bring a “radical change in the system of governance”, prevent corruption and enshrine social justice and press freedom in the constitution.

The revision also sets out to reinforce the “principle of separation of powers and balance of power, the moralisation of political life and transparency in the management of public funds,” so as to “spare the country any drift toward tyrannical despotism”, the statement also said.

Algeria’s constitution has been modified several times since the country’s independence and was tailored to Mr Bouteflika, who gained unlimited powers of appointment for top official positions.

Anti-government protests led by Hirak erupted last year and forced Mr Bouteflika to resign in April 2019, but they continued after he was gone, demanding wholesale political change.

Since Mr Bouteflika stepped down, the judiciary has levied heavy prison sentences against former officials and influential businessmen once close to him, in particular over charges of corruption and nepotism.

But since the weekly Hirak protests were halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, political opponents, independent media and activists have also been targets of a crackdown.

The revised constitution has already been criticised by jurists and rejected by a group of parties and associations linked to Hirak, which has slammed it as a “laboratory constitution” and described the referendum as “treachery”.