Algeria to vote on a constitution dismissed by protest movement

Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s election as president in a December 2019 presidential poll is widely seen as a key setback for the protest movement in Algeria. (AFP/File)
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Updated 30 October 2020

Algeria to vote on a constitution dismissed by protest movement

  • Referendum to herald ‘new republic,’ says government

ALGIERS: Algerians are set to vote on Sunday in a constitutional referendum the government touts as heralding a “new republic,” but a long-running protest movement rejects the exercise as window-dressing.
Observers see the constitution as the centerpiece of now-hospitalized President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s strategy to neutralize the Hirak movement, which staged vast demonstrations last year and forced his predecessor from office.
Despite Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s fall from power, the Hirak has failed to achieve its goal of a full overhaul of Algeria’s sclerotic political system, in place since independence from France in 1962.
In a key setback for the protest movement, Tebboune, widely seen as the army’s preferred candidate, was elected in a December 2019 presidential poll, despite the Hirak urging root-and-branch reform ahead of any elections.
Then it was forced to suspend its protests in March as the coronavirus pandemic struck.
But Tebboune, who took power after a poll marred by record low turnout, has sought legitimacy by ostensibly reaching out to the Hirak.
He has promised a new constitutional settlement he presents as meeting the movement’s demands.
But the lack of radical change in the document, which strengthens the president and the army, has left many skeptical.
“The referendum will have no impact in terms of offering a political alternative or a change in how the country is governed,” said Louisa Dris-Ait Hamadouche, a political science professor at the University of Algiers.
Algeria, with a population of 44 million on the doorstep of Europe, has escaped the violence and severe repression triggered by most of the 2011 Arab uprisings.
But with its oil-reliant economy in crisis and its young people desperate for work, the government is under pressure, also exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Tebboune himself was transferred from hospital in Algiers to Germany on Wednesday, officials said, days after the 74-year-old went into self-isolation following reports of suspected Covid-19 cases among his staff.
Politically, Tebboune was already “in a delicate situation,” said Algeria expert Hasni Abidi, pointing to the army’s resurgent political role since Bouteflika’s departure after two decades in power.
“Even if (Tebboune) is tempted to gain more legitimacy via the ballot box, he is far from having full room to maneuver,” Abidi said.
The proposed constitutional changes refer to a string of rights and freedoms, including guaranteeing the right to form parties and unions, while even praising the Hirak in a preamble.
But Zaid Al-Ali, an expert on constitutions in the Arab world, has warned that the document “lengthens the list of rights while at the same time making sure that most of those rights are devoid of meaning.”
And counter to the Hirak movement’s goals, the constitution would further enshrine a presidential system and bolster the army’s powers.
Since taking power, Tebboune has vowed to push through a revision that would rein in his own powers.
But despite limiting the president to two five-year terms, the revised constitution would still mandate the head of state to appoint an array of key officials including the prime minister, regional governors, judges and security service chiefs.
A vaguely worded article extending the role of the military has also rung alarm bells.
“It’s a genuine invitation for the army to get involved in politics, but also a poke in the eye for the Hirak, which has demanded a civilian rather than military state,” said constitutional law expert Massensen Cherbi.
The document has been carefully marketed by the government, which has led a campaign to “explain” the constitutional reform and how it lays the foundations of a “new republic.”
Few, if any, voices from the “No” camp have been heard in state media outlets.
The date of the vote is highly symbolic: November 1 was when Algeria’s eight-year war for independence from France began.
“November 1954: Liberation. November 2020: Change,” runs the slogan of the official “Yes” campaign.
If it passes, the constitution will be another serious blow for the Hirak, which has faced a slew of arrests and trials in recent months.
Activists and journalists have been handed heavy prison sentences, all in a context where the coronavirus pandemic has made it very difficult to maintain pressure against the authorities.
Amnesty International has welcomed the constitution’s inclusion of stronger language on women’s rights and economic and social rights.
But, the rights group warned in June: “The Algerian authorities’ relentless campaign of mass arbitrary arrests and a crackdown on activists and protesters risk undermining the credibility of Algeria’s constitutional reform process.”


Erdogan’s son-in-law leaves sovereign wealth fund

Updated 2 min 19 sec ago

Erdogan’s son-in-law leaves sovereign wealth fund

  • The 42-year-old quit as finance minister in a cryptic November 8 message on Instagram
  • His resignation was ignored by state media until it was formally accepted by Erdogan the next night

ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law quit as the deputy head of Turkey’s huge sovereign wealth fund, completing a fall from grace that began with his surprise resignation as finance minister.
Berat Albayrak had been viewed as Turkey’s second most powerful figure until his chaotic departure from the government at the start of the month.
Married to the Turkish leader’s elder daughter, the 42-year-old quit as finance minister in a cryptic November 8 message on Instagram that cited health reasons.
His resignation from the helm of the Turkish economy was ignored by state media for more than 24 hours, until it was formally accepted by Erdogan the next night.
Albayrak’s two-year tenure as economy chief saw the lira lose 40 percent of its value against the dollar and the central bank burn though most of its reserves in trying to defend the currency.
His departure was linked to Erdogan’s appointment of a new market-friendly central banker whom Albayrak had strongly opposed.
Naci Agbal, the new central bank governor, sharply raised the main interest rate at his first policy meeting last week, helping the lira halt its slide.
Yet Albayrak still held on to his post as deputy head of the sovereign wealth fund, which was created in 2016 and now manages state assets officially valued at $22.6 billion.
Erdogan’s office said little about Albayrak’s departure, noting in a one-sentence statement that he “left the board of the sovereign wealth fund of Turkey after asking to take leave.”
He was appointed as its deputy head in 2018, the same year Erdogan became its official chief.