Dismay at Algeria constitution vote
BBC, 13 november 2008
Algerian newspapers say Wednesday’s vote in parliament to approve constitutional changes allowing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a third term was expected. The Berber-dominated opposition denounced it as a « hold-up », while the government parties hailed it as « historic ».
The private French-language daily newspaper El Watan said that « by adding itself to the handful of states in the world, the Arab world in particular, which have written lifetime presidencies into their constitutions and consolidated personal or hereditary powers, Algeria is jumping backwards ».
‘Presidency for life’
El Watan added that the constitution changes were voted in « even as society has evolved considerably, showing itself to be extremely sensitive to individual and collective freedoms, human rights and justice, democratic attributes that the country discovered in adversity, having, in just one half-century, confronted three huge tests, those of the colonial yoke, the single party and terrorism ».
The vote is synonymous of a « presidency for life » for Mr Bouteflika, said the paper.
‘Red carpet for re-election’
« Bouteflika treats himself to a third mandate », the private French-language daily newspaper Le Soir d’Algerie said.
The paper added that the current authorities had « killed the principle of alternation of power by organizing its funeral at the Palais des Nations Hall [where the vote took place] ».
Another private French-language newspaper L’Expression pointed out that « there was no debate or intervention, the MPs went to the Palais des Nations only to raise their hands in support of the change ».
« Within two weeks only, the revision of the constitution, which has been widely discussed for so long, has finally taken place. But no-one was excepting it to be wrapped up in such a short time, » the paper said.
For its part, the private French-language daily newspaper Liberte described the vote as a « red carpet for [Bouteflika’s] re-election ».
On the political level, the leader of the secular and Berber-dominated Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), Said Sadi, said after the vote that the revision of the constitution was a « hold-up », « a way of institutionalising the tribal character of power ».
An ‘insult’ to MPs
Said Sadi, who the press said left the hall a few minutes after the vote, was quoted by El Watan as saying: « Is it credible to announce at the beginning of the session that a message from the president was going to be read, while it was expected to be read at the end of the proceedings?
« A message in which he congratulated the MPs who have approved this procedure. This is an insult to the lawmakers and the people in particular. »
‘Political, spiritual bankruptcy’
The first secretary of the other Berber-dominated Socialist Forces Front party (FFS), Karim Tabbou, told the private Arabic-language daily newspaper El Khabar that « Algeria is being managed like a supermarket, and we have been living under the regime of one term since [independence day in] 1962 ».
The constitution changes « reflect a political and spiritual bankruptcy and a general sense of frustration », said Mr Tabbou, before asking: « Was the revision of the constitution a people’s demand? »
« Genuine democracy should have been established in 1962, » he said.
Political parties in the coalition government, the National Liberation Front (FLN), the National Democratic Rally (RND) and the moderate Islamist Movement of Society of Peace (MSP) have hailed the vote as « historic ».
The RND leader and prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, said through the revision of the constitution, the people had provided a « clear response » to those who have been criticising the government.
« In our beloved Algeria today, there is nothing that can limit the president’s mandates, » he said.