The battle has been won. The constitutional amendments removing presidential term limits and reorganizing the upper echelons of the executive branch passed in parliament 500 to 21, with 8 abstentions. The vote was recorded by raised hands and not by secret ballot, a cause for irritation in the opposition. Of those opposition parties in parliament, only the RCD opposed the amendments. The amendments allow for endless presidential terms and establish the office of Prime Minister in place of the Head of Government, along with multiple vice Prime Ministers. Ouyahia will almost certain assume this office and Le Soir believes that Abdelaziz Belkhadem and Tayeb Iouhi are likely candidates for Vice Prime Ministerships. It also included language that guaranteed the right of women to participate in politics. Bouteflika’s remarks to parliament can be seen here, via El Moudjadhid.
The RCD is calling for international observers to monitor next year’s elections. Sadi said that Algerians should fight for “a democratic alternative” and to struggle to work for the “social democratic project,” while working to revise the amendments and to stop the “institutionalization of the symbolic manipulation of the national heritage.” (The amendments also included provisions relating to the flag and national anthem.) Sadi said that the RCD will not participate in the elections without international monitoring. The RCD was the only major opposition party to oppose the amendment in parliament.
The Interior Minister, Yazid Zerhouni brushed off Sadi’s calls by saying that such measures would “require the consent of all the presidential candidates,” but said that he did not personally oppose the idea. Zerhouni mocked Said’s request, saying that the party seeking international observers was the one without sufficient support at the polls.
The FFS, Ait Ahmed’s storied group, of course opposed the amendments as well. “We reject the draft overall and in detail,” said Karim Tabbou, the part’s First Secretary. In an interview with El Watan, Tabbou rejected the construction of the amendements as a “review” of the constitution and termed it “an umpteenth violation of the rules by which a state must operate.” Power, he said, “is outside of all visible institutions and any constitutional norm,” calling the amendments’ authors “a group of [military] officers in a movie theatre.” He called for the return of popular sovereignty and blasted those arguing that the amendments were justified because they included the topic of women’s rights: “This is the political scam to pass the constitutional revision under the guise of promoting the representation of women.” He derided Bouteflika for ‘maintaining internal balances of power while freezing and blocking society.”
The Islamist party an-Nahda was also displeased. The amendment “did not involve the political class in the discussion of the project despite its importance.”
Also displeased with the process was a MDS pamphleteer who was arrested for distributing literature opposing the third term amendment.
Ahmed Ouyahia defended the changes to the executive branch by pointing, curiously, to Tunisia. The new executive arrangement is “not a constitutional pattern created in Algeria, because it is the semi-presidential system used by our brothers in Tunisia and France. It is not heresy if the President decides to appoint a deputy chief minister or others, and each country follows this pattern of conduct as applicable to the governing program of the president.” El Khabar interpreted this as “the opposition will never come to power,” if we are to look to the results of Ouyahia’s “Tunisian model.”
Belkhadem met with Louisa Hanoune and other members of parliament to discuss their support for the amendments. Belkhadem, who was demoted earlier this year, said that “adding amendments did not explain the nature of the regime and whether we a presidential republic or a parliamentary republic.” Speaking to a gathering of FLN deputies, Belkhadem said that the amendments did not get rid of overlaps in the powers of the President and the Prime Minister, issues that “need to be clarified in the future.” Belkhadem likely feels that he will be marginalized by the new executive arangement (similar to how he was somewhat alienated in the spring of this year.)
Last week, Morocco’s King Mohamed VI accused Algeria of “igniting war” and standing in the way of a united Maghreb. Zerhouni responded by saying that Algeria has long “been struggling for this ideal” of a united Arab Maghreb, grumbling that “no one is allowed to accuse Algeria of attempting to balkanize the Maghreb.” The Moroccan comments came on the anniversary of the Green March, by means of which Morocco invaded the Western Sahara, igniting the on going conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front. He again called for Algeria to open its border with Morocco, which fell mostly on deaf ears in the Algerian leadership.
Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci reiterated Zerhouni’s comments while in Ankara, saying that “Algeria has always been attached to peace in the Maghreb,” and dismissing Mohamed VI’s comments. Medelci is in Turkey — a major destination for Algerian natural gas — on a two-day official visit. The Turkish president congratulated Bouteflika on the constitutional revision, and called for more parliamentary cooperation between the two countries. The topic of discussion has thus far been the Western Sahara and the world financial crisis.
That same week, President Bouteflika received the head of the Chinese parliament, who said that “Sino-Algerian relations are going through their best stage in history.” The Chinese representative pledged continued work on the creation of the east-west highway, to expand cooperation in energy and mineral extraction, and the creation of a Chinese economic zone in Algeria. He also met with Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelaziz Ziari, the head of the Algerian parliament, and discussed increasing parliamentary exchanges between the two countries. The Chinese also expressed gratitude for Algeria’s support on Taiwan and Tibet.
The Jordanian monarch visited Algiers on Monday, focusing on trade (especially in medicines) and the Palestinian issue. After King Abdallah left, it was revealed by Djamel Ould Abbas that five companies “monopolize” medicinal imports in the country. He raised the issue of developing an indigenous pharmaceutical sector in Algeria the relation of agreements signed between the Algerian government and those of countries where there are large numbers of Algerian pharmacists and physicians to such an idea, at the University of Medea.
Energy Minister and OPEC president Chakib Khelil said that OPEC would look to further cut supply in the face of falling prices. An OPEC meeting will be held in Algeria in December.