There are reports in both Jeune Afrique and AllAfrica that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika no longer enjoys the support of a majority of deputies in the legislature.
The president was supported by a three-party coalition comprising the National Liberation Front (FLN), the National Rally for Democracy (RND) and the Movement of the Society for Peace (MSP). Jeune Afrique has a nice graphic illustrating the composition of the legislature.
The legislature is currently debating the reforms that President Bouteflika promised in April. (See previous post). However, the new electoral code has proved particularly problematic. In particular, the MSP seems to have adopted an opposition strategy, even though its representatives are in government.
This situation is interesting because Algeria is rarely called a democracy. However, at various times, notably in 2006 when there was a real threat of the government being voted down by the legislature, there is also real contestation and political pluralism.
Algeria is another country that has been caught up in the ‘Arab spring’. There have been demonstrations and there have also been attempts to quell the unrest by the security services. Anyway, the most recent attempt to try to manage the situation came on Friday with a 20-minute televised speech by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The text of the speech is available in French here. In it, President Bouteflika tried to reassure the country that more social measures would be taken. As in Tunisia, the demonstrations have been at least partly motivated by the economic difficulties that certain sections of the population are experiencing.
In the speech, President Bouteflika also promised a process of constitutional reform. There were few details, but he said that he would be asking parliament to revise the constitution to make it more democratic. He seemed to focus on making the system more representative, referring specifically to a reform of electoral laws and a reform of the law on political parties. A constitutional commission was proposed to examine the necessary reforms.
There is a relatively plural press in Algeria. There is a nice report here that addresses the range of reactions that the speech has received. They go from disappointment, to limited approval, to unequivocal support.
Hot off the wires, here is the result of the Algerian presidential election. The high level of participation is noteworthy, but the result, to say the least, is scarcely a surprise. The election was boycotted by various candidates.
Registered voters: 20.595.683
Number voting: 15.351.305
Blank ballots : 1.042.727
Votes cast : 14.378.578
Participation rate : 74, 54 %
Abdelaziz Bouteflika : 12.911.705 votes, 90,24 %
Louisa Hanoune : 604 258 votes, 4,22 %
Moussa Touati : 330 570 votes, 2,31%
Djahid Younsi : 176 674 votes, 1,37 %
Ali Fawzi Rebaïne : 133 129 votes, 0,93 %
Mohamed Said : 132 242 votes, 0,92 %
Source: Algerian Press Service
On 12 November the Algerian parliament passed the set of constitutional reforms proposed by President Bouteflika. (See previous post). The president ratified the reforms on 15 November.
One of the consequences of the reforms is that the head of government is now officially titled ‘prime minister’ rather than … head of government (chef du gouvernement). This wording is consistent with a key element of the reform, namely that the prime minister is now charged with implementing the president’s programme.
Parliament voted 500 for the reform, 21 against, and 8 eights abstentions. The head of government, Ahmed Ouyahia, tendered his resignation immediately after the reform was passed. President Bouteflika appointed him as … Prime Minister immediately thereafter.
The Algerian Press Service has announced more details of President Bouteflika’s proposed constitutional amendment. The constitutional bill was approved in yesterday’s Council of Ministers.
As expected, the term limit for the presidency is being abolished. In addition, Art. 77-5 is being amended to make it clear that the president names and end the functions of the PM, plus the president may appoint any number of vice-PMs and end their functions too. (It’s not obvious to me how this will make the executive more streamlined as per yesterday’s post). However, the constitution will now state that the PM implements the president’s programme, thus reinforcing the president’s position within the executive. Crucially, in terms of semi-presidentialism, the government’s responsibility to the legislature is not being changed.
All told, it looks as if Algeria will remain semi-presidential.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria has announced his desire to see a set of constitutional amendments passed some time prior to the next presidential election, which is scheduled for April 2009.
Jeune afrique reports that parliament will be asked to pass the amendments. If parliament passes the amendments (and there can scarcely be any doubt about that), the Constitution usually requires a referendum, though there are circumstances under which a referendum can be avoided (Arts. 174-176). According to one Algerian newspaper, it seems as if President Bouteflika is proposing to pass the reform without the need for a referendum.
One aspect of the reform is likely to be an amendment to Art. 74, which currently allows the president to be re-elected only once. President Bouteflika was elected in 1999 and 2004. So, the revision of this article is likely to allow him to be able to stand again in 2009.
However, there has been an ongoing debate in Algeria as to whether the post of prime minister should be abolished. In this context, one of three main axes of the reform is the following: “la réorganisation, la précision et la clarification des prérogatives et des rapports entre les constituants du pouvoir exécutif sans pour autant toucher aux équilibres des pouvoirs”. This clarifies very little, but it certainly leaves open the possibility that the premiership will be abolished. If you assume that the country is already presidentialised, then the abolition of the prime minister would not amount to any change in the ‘equilibrium of powers’.
Moreover, in his speech President Bouteflika went on to say: “Un pouvoir exécutif doit être fort, uni et cohérent, à même d’assumer ses responsabilités et de décider avec célérité et efficacité, de sorte à éviter les dualités et les contradictions et de dépasser les effets négatifs induits par l’incapacité à coordonner certains programmes. Ces dualités et ces contradictions conduisent finalement à l’émiettement et à la dissolution de la responsabilité et au chevauchement des décisions, induisant par là même un retard dans l’exécution des programmes et la réalisation de nos projets, portant ainsi atteinte aux intérêts du peuple et de la nation”. I am not an expert in how to read Algerian presidential statements, but given the reference to the problems of ‘dualism’ within the executive, and knowing that there have been problems between presidents and prime ministers in the past, this sounds to me like a presidential system is about to be introduced.
President Bouteflika’s speech is available here.
In Algeria President Bouteflika has appointed Ahmed Ouyahia as the new prime minister, replacing Abdelaziz Belkhadem who had been in office since May 2006.
It is the third time that M. Ouyahia has been prime minister. The first time was from 31 Dec 1995 – 15 Dec 1998 under President Zéroual. In 1998 he resigned ahead of the annual report to parliament. There were tensions between the government and the military over how best to deal with the Islamists. The second time was under President Bouteflika from 5 May 2003 – 24 May 2006. In 2006 he resigned largely because he opposed the president’s plans for constitutional reform.
President Bouteflika has expressed a desire to see the introduction of a pure presidential system. Perhaps, therefore, M. Ouyahia’s appointment is a sign that President Bouteflika has abandoned his plans for reform and that Algeria will remain semi-presidential. There were some rumours last year that President Bouteflika was unwell and that the reforms would be shelved. However, to date, the president has not disavowed them. Unless Prime Minister Ouyahia has come around to the president’s way of thinking, it is possible that his appointment is a sign that behind the scenes the reforms have been quietly dropped.