Algerian Lawmakers Pass Constitutional Reforms, Opposition Dismiss

Algerian lawmakers approved constitutional reforms on Sunday proposed by President Abdelziz Bouteflika, including reinstating a two-term limit for the presidency and expanding parliament's powers. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

ALGIERS, Feb 7 – Algerian lawmakers passed constitutional reforms on Sunday proposed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings, including reinstating a two-term limit for the presidency and boosting parliamentary powers.

Government officials said the amendments fulfilled Bouteflika’s promises to strengthen democracy, but opposition leaders dismissed them as superficial tweaks to a system long dominated by the ruling FLN party and the military.

The FLN along with the RND and other pro-government parties hold a majority in both chambers of the parliament and 499 out of 517 lawmakers present voted in favor, with 16 abstaining. Several opposition parties boycotted the vote.

“The reforms we have started allow us to move to a new political and constitutional phase, based on democratic principles,” Bouteflika said in a statement read by the senate chief on his behalf.

Approval of the reforms should prompt the naming of a new government cabinet by Bouteflika, an independence-era veteran whose has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 despite re-election in 2014 to a fourth term.

The constitutional reforms were approved at a delicate time for the North African OPEC member, whose government is facing a sharp slide in oil prices that has slashed its revenues and forced it to trim spending.

The amendments limit presidents to two terms in office, reversing a reform Bouteflika’s government introduced in 2008, allowing him to be re-elected in 2009.

According to the reforms, the president must now consult with the majority in parliament when choosing a prime minister, and create an independent election monitoring body.

“The constitutional revisions contain some positive things and improvements, but they do not reflect any real political reform,” Djelloul Djoudi, a member of the opposition Workers’ Party, said.

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

In 2002, the 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, meaning it would also be used by the administration and appear in documents.

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