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Algerian Government Lays Out Draft Constitutional Reforms

  • Reuters

FILE - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

FILE - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Algeria's government unveiled on Tuesday draft constitutional reforms that include limiting future presidents to two terms in office and obliging the head of state to consult parliament on naming prime ministers.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, re-elected in April 2014 to a fourth term, has promised a package of amendments to strengthen democracy in the energy-rich North African state, which has been mostly governed by the ruling FLN party and the army since winning independence from France in 1962.

Critics of the government say that, despite elections, Algerian politics remains too dominated by behind-the-scenes negotiations between the FLN elite and army generals who compete for influence, leaving opposition parties with little power.

The new reforms, which Bouteflika's cabinet director Ahmed Ouyahia presented to reporters, will be submitted to parliament this month for approval, the last hurdle before being incorporated into the constitution.

"The amendments have been drafted after consultations,” Ouyahia said. “About 70 percent of those amendments reflects collective proposals from parties who took part."

Language recognized

The amendments would also officially recognize the Amazigh language spoken by Berbers, the original inhabitants of North Africa before the seventh-century Arab invasion.

In 2002, the Algerian government recognized Amazigh or Tamazight as a national language, meaning it could be taught officially in schools in Berber-speaking regions for the first time. But Berbers had pushed for Tamazight to gain official status, putting it on a par with Arabic.

The president's allies have a strong majority in parliament and the reforms are unlikely to face a serious challenge there, but a group of prominent opposition figures and political parties have already criticized the proposals as insufficient.

"Any revision of the constitution that involves the country's future requires that the people be consulted through fair and honest elections," they said in a joint statement.

Power change suspected

Since his re-election last year, Bouteflika, 78, has not appeared in public, only in brief images on state media. He suffered a stroke in 2013 that left him in a French hospital for months before he returned to Algeria.

Approving the proposed amendments last month, the presidency said they would allow a "deepening of the separation of powers.”

Analysts say the reforms may also be aimed at facilitating a stable transition of power if Bouteflika decides to step down.

Algeria's government is facing economic challenges after the dramatic collapse of world oil prices cut its vital oil and gas revenues by 50 percent in 2015, forcing authorities to trim budget spending for last year and 2016.