Ahead of Algeria’s important referendum on its new constitution, Morocco World News investigates the promises and merits of the draft document that promises a “new Algeria.” In a three-part series, MWN’s Issam Toutate, Perri Huggins and Jasper Hamann explore the implications of the controversial draft document.
Algeria is presenting its proposed constitution as a direct response to demands of the 2019 Hirak (movement) protests. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune promised the new foundational document in his first national address following his inauguration in 2019.
Tebboune, who is currently receiving medical treatment in Germany, pledged that Algeria’s new constitution would limit the president’s powers and crack down on corruption. Algeria’s president stated that a new separation of powers through radical reform of the constitution would directly address protesters’ concerns.
The government’s motives came into question early, during the document’s drafting. Algeria kept important civil society actors in the dark, unable to see the document, while the government itself was able to amend the draft before publishing it.
Algeria’s new constitution nominally aims to limit presidential terms. However, the public knows little about the true consequences of its wording and whether it lives up to Tebboune’s promises as its November 1 referendum nears.
Preserving the status quo
Similar to the draft constitution’s articles on freedom of speech and press freedom, articles relevant to the current status quo in Algeria are mired in vague language. The document’s carefully crafted wording appears to be rife with the opportunity for future abuse by the powerful few who rule Algeria.
It seems the document fails to live up to the promises Tebboune made on separation of powers and adjustments to the practical functioning of Algeria’s government. What the government touted as a document to produce a “new Algeria” lacks the radical change that could produce a genuine step towards democracy.
An apt example of the failure to reform important elements of Algeria’s decades-old entrenched regime is Article 84 of Chapter 3 of the proposed constitution. Chapter 3 is meant to address the “organization and separation of powers,” yet it continues to enshrine much of the Algerian state’s power in the presidency. Problematically, it continues to define the role of the president as the primary protector of the state and the republic.
In the name of protecting national unity and the constitution, the document grants Algeria’s president far-reaching authority that fails to adequately separate the powers of state.
Article 91 of the constitution expands the power of the president, both as head of Algeria’s army as well as in regard to the judiciary, the legislative branch, and international affairs.
The executive branch’s wide range of powers means the president will be able to overrule judges, decide when elections take place, and unilaterally sign international treaties and ratify them into law. If Algerian citizens approve the new constitution on November 1, Tebboune will wield tremendous power over the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the state.
Having these powers concentrated in Algeria’s executive branch is a far cry from a genuine “separation of powers” as defined by the Trias Politica that requires branches to check each other’s authority.
If the draft earns approval, the president will continue to have the right to appoint and remove the prime minister, which was the case in former presidencies. He will also be able to “summon” Parliament, indicating that the legislative branches of government will have little ability to rein in his executive decisions.
It appears that earlier references to “protecting the constitution” in reality support the president’s ability to protect the powers and competences he enjoys. This is clear in the president’s constitutional right in Article 149 that allows him to demand that Parliament reconsider any law the head of state deems inappropriate.
Furthermore, the president would have the right, as mentioned in Article 105, to “appoint the prime minister” as well as direct them to prepare an “action plan” for the functioning of the government, as a way to preserve the status quo. Algeria’s draft constitution is not promising when it comes to the separation of powers.
Final arbiter of the law
With the legislative branch firmly under the control of the president, the constitution also grants the head of state the position of final arbiter over judicial decisions.
The draft constitution’s judiciary reforms appear to be a mere rewording of previous practices enshrined in the constitution put forth under former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime. Article 180 continues to give the president the right to freely interfere in the judicial field. A far cry from an actual separation of powers, the judicial branch would continue to remain firmly under the control of Algeria’s president.
The president would in essence be part of the judicial branch in the role of chair of the Supreme Judicial Council, making a mockery of the promise to “guarantee the independence” of the judiciary. Similar to Algeria under Bouteflika’s power, the new constitution would mean judges could do little to restrain or check the president’s actions, whatever they may be.
Corruption and oversight
One of the Hirak protests’ main demands was to put an end to the endemic corruption that is rife in Algeria. In order to address these concerns the new constitution institutes new oversight boards to monitor the use of funds for “conformity.”
At the head of these “new” undefined “institutions and boards” is the already existent Constitutional Council. Yet again the top body controlling the new anti-corruption oversight would be at the behest of the president’s will.
If Algeria approves the constitution on Sunday, Tebboune will be able pick or influence the selection of nearly all of the members on the Constitutional Council that will control these new boards, including the court’s president.
Again, the new constitution appears to fail to live up to the promises of the government. A true “new Algeria” would require a genuine approach to the separation of powers. Furthermore, the absence of strong anti-corruption measures and ambitious targets regarding its eradication suggest that the government has little true intent to stop the endemic practice.
Join us tomorrow for the conclusion of MWN’s analysis ahead of the referendum on Sunday.