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Algeria - Government

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose head of state and government (president) is elected by popular vote to a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister. A November 2008 constitutional amendment eliminated presidential term limits.

Algeria set 01 November 2020 as the date for a referendum on a new constitution aimed at boosting democracy and giving parliament a greater role after months-long protests demanding reforms. After "consultations with the parties concerned, it was decided to set the date of 1 November 2020 for the holding of the referendum on the draft revision of the Constitution," the office of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said on 24 August 2020. The date also marked the anniversary of the start of Algeria's 1954-62 war for independence from France.

Polls opened for a vote on a revised constitution the regime hoped will neutralise a protest movement which at its peak last year swept long-time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power. Bouteflika's successor Abdelmadjid Tebboune, currently hospitalised overseas, pitched the text as meeting the demands of the Hirak, a movement that staged vast weekly demonstrations for more than a year, until the coronavirus pandemic stopped rallies. But despite a determined government media campaign for a resounding "yes" vote to usher in a "new Algeria", observers say the document offers little new.

Nothing has changed. The ultra-presidential regime will stay. The new constitution would give the prime minister and parliament more powers to govern the North African country of 45 million people, a draft released earlier this year showed. The government has said the draft, which kept presidential terms limited to two mandates, would be submitted to parliament for debate and approval before a referendum. Elected last December, President Tebboune has repeatedly pledged to introduce political and economic reforms and to meet demands raised in demonstrations that toppled veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 2019.

Algerian People's National Assembly (APN) unanimously adopted the draft of the new constitution 10 September 2020. The draft of the new constitution was presented by Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad to APN (lower house of parliament) on 08 September 2020. The draft should be adopted by the Council of the Nation (upper house of parliament) before it is submitted to a referendum on November 1. The draft constitution is related to basic rights and public freedoms, strengthening the separation and balance of powers, transparency, preventing and combating corruption and the independent national authority for elections. The most important proposals put forward by the draft amendment to the constitution include limiting the presidential term to two terms only and creating a vice president position appointed by the president.

Opposition leaders and activists denounced the vote as a ploy to further entrench the ruling elite’s hold on power. the revised text is unmistakably aimed at assuaging angry citizens, whose participation in a year-long pro-democracy movement was only brought to an end by the coronavirus pandemic. The demonstrations – which initially began in February 2019 in response to a re-election bid by Tebboune’s predecessor, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, despite his failing health – quickly transformed into demands for systemic change.

Though heads of state are still limited to two consecutive or separate terms in office under the new constitution, it is the charter’s claim of enforcing the principle of separation of powers that is drawing the most criticism. The President would continue to enjoy much the same prerogatives as his predecessors, still able to name and remove a sitting prime minister.

Mustapha Bouchachi, a prominent lawyer and former member of parliament, said “When it comes to the judiciary, he [Tebboune], as the president of the High Council of the Magistracy, would also appoint and dismiss judges ... So the president is directly involved in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. What’s more, Tebboune would also be in charge of all regulatory bodies, including those responsible for auditing government expenditure. This constitution gives the president the powers of an emperor.”

The proposal to change Algeria's constitution won most votes in the 01 November 2020 referendum and will become law, but very low turnout undercut the government strategy of using the poll to turn a page on last year's political unrest. Fewer than one in four registered voters cast a ballot, Algeria's lowest-ever turnout, with many in the opposition "Hirak" street protest movement opposing the referendum. Two thirds of those who did vote supported the changes, the electoral commission head Mohamed Charfi said at a news conference on 02 November 2020, adding that the coronavirus had negatively affected turnout. However, it meant that only 15.8 percent of registered voters went to the polls and cast a ballot in favour of the new constitution. Prominent members of the Hirak hailed the low turnout as a defeat for the government's strategy.

The authorities tried and imprisoned close Bouteflika allies and prominent businessmen in his circle on corruption charges. Yet many Hirak members maintain their goals – replacing a governing elite that has ruled since independence from France in 1963, ending corruption and forcing the army to withdraw from politics – were only partly accomplished.

Authorities were reluctant to open up political space in an abrupt and definitive manner because they were afraid of being held accountable for their actions during the country’s civil war, which pitted government forces against Islamist fighters who took up arms after a coup deprived them of an all-but-certain electoral victory in the 1991 legislative elections. They are convinced of the need for change, but they want it to happen gradually over 10 or 15 years, which would then allow them to withdraw and evade prosecution.

1963 Constitution

Since independence in 1962, Algeria has had three constitutions. The first of these was approved by a constitutional referendum in August 1963, only after prior approval and modifications by the FLN. Intended as a means of legitimizing Ben Bella's new regime, the constitution also established Algeria as a republic committed to socialism and to the preservation of Algeria's Arab and Islamic culture. The constitution lasted only two years, however, and was suspended upon Colonel Boumediene's military coup in June 1965. For the next ten years, Algeria was ruled without a constitution, although representative local and provincial institutions were created in the late 1960s in Boumediene's attempt to decentralize political authority.

1976 Constitution

In 1976 the National Charter and a new constitution were drafted, debated, and eventually passed by national referenda. Together, these documents formed the national constitution and ushered in the Second Algerian Republic. The new constitution reasserted the commitment to socialism and the revolutionary tradition of the nation, and established new government institutions, including the APN. The 1986 revisions continued the conservative nature of the previous constitutions but increased the role of the private sector and diminished the socialist commitment.

Under the 1976 Constitution (as modified 1979 and amended in 1988, 1989, 1996, and 2008), Algeria is a multi-party state. The Ministry of the Interior must approve all political parties. According to the Constitution, no political association may be formed "based on differences in religion, language, race, gender or region." Algeria has universal suffrage at the age of 18.

The head of state and of government is the president of the republic. The president, elected to a five-year term, is the head of the Council of Ministers and of the High Security Council. He appoints the prime minister as well as one-third of the upper house of parliament (the Council of the Nation).

1989 Constitution

The revised constitution of February 1989 altered the configuration of the state and allowed political parties to compete, opening the way for liberal democracy. The new constitution removed the commitment to socialism embodied in both the National Charter and the constitution of 1976 and its 1986 revision. The references to the unique and historic character of the FLN and the military's role as "guardian of the revolution" were eliminated. The provisions for a unicameral legislature remained.

In what was considered a sweeping mandate of support for the liberalization efforts of Benjedid, a referendum on the 1989 constitution passed February 23, 1989, with a 75 percent approval and a 78 percent participation rate. The changes embodied in the constitution were not universally accepted, however. Within a month after the ratification of the new constitution, a number of prominent senior military officers resigned from the FLN Central Committee to protest the revisions. The most divisive issues included the separation of the religious institution and the state; the abandonment of the commitment to socialism; and the liberalization of political life, allowing independent political parties.

1996 Constitution

The constitution of 1996 created a system divided between a strong President, a Prime Minister and Cabinet, a bicameral Parliament, and a judicial system headed by a Supreme Court and Constitutional Council.

2016 Constitution

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said 09 March 2016 that the Constitution amended and adopted on February 7, by Parliament, paves the way for institutional and democratic renewal in Algeria. "The Constitution establishes definitively and irreversibly the republican nature of the Algerian State, separation of powers, democratic principles and consolidates unity and national identity," the premier stressed.

For a genuine transition to a new political order, it is necessary that a balance exists - not only in the constitution, but also in actions-between the powers of the executive branch and those of the legislature. Also, the excessive concentration of power in the hands of the state at the expense of municipal and county (wilaya) governments should be replaced by a true decentralization and devolution of power. This would indeed help find local solutions to the many problems faced by people in several town, cities and wilayates of the country. Furthermore, the judiciary, which is currently subservient to the executive branch, needs a necessary independence.

President Bouteflika had promised the amendments to provide more democracy in the country, after he was re-elected President for a fourth term in 2014. In June 2014 the Presidency held consultation on the constitutional reforms with 52 political parties, a number of civil society organizations and associations, as well as professors and the head of the Upper House of Parliament.

Consultations on the constitution’s future content, which required an update after being last amended in 2008, began in mid-2014 and ended two months later (June-August). It was approved in late December 2015 by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. On 05 January 2016 the Algerian government presented the draft constitutional reforms, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika having approved them a week earlier.

On 07 February 2016, the Algerian parliament adopted a reformed constitution submitted by a moribund Bouteflika administration eager to organise the conditions of the upcoming power transition. The new constitution limits the number of successive Presidential terms to two.

The reforms introduce important modifications and provide significant novelties both societal and political. In the societal sphere, the Amazigh language spoken by the 13 million indigenous Berber population will be recognised as official alongside Arabic, Other changes address the access of young people and women to the job market.

Freedom of written and audiovisual press is guaranteed. Any form of prior censorship does not restrict it. Aimed at ending the country’s long suffering from corruption, it was decided to “create a national body for prevention and fighting against corruption — an independent administrative authority under the president of the republic.”


The 1989 constitution established a "state of law," accentuating the role of the executive and, specifically, the president, at the expense of the FLN. The president, having the power to appoint and dismiss the prime minister at will, and maintaining singular authority over military affairs, emerged as the dominant force. The FLN became but one of many political parties. The responsibilities of the army were limited to defense and external security. Moreover, the army was obliged to become less visible because of its role in suppressing the October 1988 revolts.

The 2016 constitution cancelled the 2008 change of the constitution that allowed the lifting of presidential limits, the president is re-elected for one five-year term only once. “This article can’t be revised,” the 2016 draft constitution reads.

Under the draft reforms, a President had to have a Parliamentary majority to appoint a Prime Ministers. The 2016 amendments require the president to nominate a prime minister from the largest party in parliament and establish the existence of an electoral commission which is expected to be independent.


The pre-1989 electoral system allowed for multiple candidates for local and national elections, although all candidates were drawn from an FLN list. Districts were divided based on a proportional representation system. The legalization of competitive political parties in 1989 challenged the FLN with candidates drawn from other party lists. To preserve the FLN's political domination, the National People's Assembly, in which the FLN dominated, made modifications to the electoral districts. These redistributions involved heavy overrepresentation of the rural and less populated regions, traditional strongholds of the FLN, and drew heavy criticism from all political parties.

In the new system of proportional representation, all seats in the local and national assemblies are awarded to the party winning a majority of the popular vote. In the absence of an absolute majority, the party with a plurality of votes receives 51 percent of the seats and the remaining seats are proportionally divided among all other parties receiving at least 7 percent of the total popular vote. This new electoral system actually served to undermine the FLN when the FIS emerged as the most popular party in the June 1990 local elections and again in the first round of national elections in December 1991. In May 1991 and again in October 1991, the National People's Assembly approved new electoral codes adding extra seats, so that the total number of seats came to 430, up from 261 in 1976.

The Algerian parliament is bicameral, consisting of a lower chamber, the National People's Assembly (APN), with 389 members and an upper chamber, the Council of the Nation, with 144 members. The APN is elected every five years. Legislative elections for the APN were held in May 2007. Two-thirds of the Council of the Nation is elected by regional and municipal authorities; the rest are appointed by the president. The Council of the Nation serves a six-year term with one-half of the seats up for election or reappointment every three years. Either the president or one of the parliamentary chambers may initiate legislation. Legislation must be brought before both chambers before it becomes law, but this cannot happen without the support of the presidency. If the APN vetoes legislation, it must technically be dissolved. Sessions of the APN are televised.

According to the constitution, the Algerian parliament has numerous prerogatives which could allow it to debate a long list of issues, make laws and oppose the government whenever necessary by voting down executive bills or by way of a no-confidence vote against the prime minister. However, presidential powers are so extensive that the president can by-pass parliament and enact the policies he wishes. If parliament were to truly exercise its constitutional powers, it may be able to check those of the executive branch, but it has not done so since parliamentary life returned in 1997. The pro-government coalition (FLN-RND-MSP), which overwhelmingly dominates parliament, usually supports governmental initiatives notably because every side finds an interest in this arrangement. Also, in the name of restoring political stability and foiling the ambitions of radical Islamists and radical Berberists, dissent is strongly discouraged.

The 2016 reform enlarged parliament’s powers and set up an independent body to supervise elections, headed by a non-aligned public figure. But the opposition is unconvinced. The reforms may also be aimed at helping a stable transition should Bouteflika step down during his fourth term.

Local Government

Algeria is divided into 48 wilayat (states or provinces) headed by walis (governors) who report to the Minister of Interior. Each wilaya is further divided into communes. The wilayat and communes are each governed by an elected assembly.

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Page last modified: 24-06-2021 17:50:10 ZULU