According to the Chair of Algeria’s National Elections Committee, and after counting the votes of the referendum, out of 24 million eligible voters, only 5.639 million people cast their vote in the ballot boxes. Of this, 3.355 million voted in favour of amending the constitution. The Constitutional Council of Algeria, as the highest judicial authority of the country, officially endorsed the approval of the draft constitution and announced that no protest or complaint can be accepted.
The Muslim party known as the Movement of Society for Peace-the branch of Algeria Muslim Brotherhood (HAMAS)- is the largest political party which had earlier rejected any change in the Constitution. After the referendum, this party announced that the outcome of the vote lacks political and public legitimacy as very few eligible voters participated in the plebiscite and therefore it should become null and void. The outcome of the referendum demonstrates the failure of the government plans and its inability to realize national consensus on the constitution and protect the country against the real threats posed to Algeria.
Abderrazak Makri, the leader of Algeria’s main Islamic political party, the Movement of Society for Peace, and the spiritual father of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology in Algeria, believes that the result of the plebiscite suggested the defeat of the present rules of Algeria in forming a national consensus for the constitution. This constitution lacks political and public legitimacy as legitimacy and lawfulness come after political and national legitimacy. This constitution and its articles which were poorly accepted by the votes and threaten the structure of society would pose a danger to the stability of the country. The head of the Justice and Development Party of Algeria also called for the annulment of the draft constitution and claimed that the percentage of voters should not be heeded as they only constituted 13 percent of the total voters.
This participation rate was much less than that of the last year’s presidential elections in Algeria. The government, which came to last year’s elections with the slogan of November 1954 Freedom; November 2020 Change and promoted patriotic slogans to entice greater public participation, has been inflicted a heavy defeat now. Abdelmadjid Tebboune, the Algerian President pledged on 12 December 2019 one day after being elected as the president that he will prepare the grounds for drafting a new constitution and will place the country on the course of democracy. After months of widespread public protest in Algeria, he became president and talked about placing that country in a new course for the benefit of the people. President Tebboune focused its main program on reviewing the constitution of Algeria which has undergone some changes on several occasions since the independence of Algeria in 1962. He also tried to control public protests in Algeria. Although President Tebboune considers a new constitution as the cornerstone of fundamental reforms to build a “new Algeria”, domestic developments demonstrated that his efforts to convince the opposition and the majority of the people of that country have not been that much successful.
The people of Algeria on 16 February 2019 and six days after Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced candidacy for the fifth consecutive term to become the next president of Algeria thronged the streets to protest the political scene and trend of the country. Therefore, the movement of opposition in Algeria known as Hirak was formed in 2019. The protestors demanded their rulers to be deposed of power, and that the Army leaves the political realm and corruption ends. The people of Algeria demanded a fundamental change in the political system of that country and chanted slogans such as the “generals should be thrown to the bid, Algeria shall remain independent, people are informed and rulers are traitors”.
In the belief of the opposition, the reforms taken in the constitution do not incorporate the ideas and approaches of Hirak Movement and are not alone enough to move towards democracy. Therefore, the opposition embargoed the referendum. In their belief, the new constitution has a lot of ambiguities and does not present a clear picture of how various opposition political parties and groups should be treated. It also entrusts extensive authorities to the president and empowers the president to appoint or dismiss various political and judicial officials. Many observers consider the limited participation of people in the last constitutional referendum as a humiliation for the government and a silent victory for the Hirak Movement. They believe that the historical sanction on the referendum in Algeria is a negative reply of the people of that country to the opinion of the incumbent president.
The poor participation of Algerians in the constitutional referendum was a victory for the Hirak Movement which is calling a fundamental regime change in Algeria. The opposition Hirak Movement which came into birth since last February would soon celebrate its second anniversary of establishment. It is seeking a fundamental change in the present rule of governance in Algeria.
The draft constitution which was unanimously adopted last summer in the Algerian parliament (with only one abstention) is composed of one preamble and seven chapters. The main goal behind drafting a new constitution was to avoid repeated terms of office for president, limit the presidential tenure to two terms, define and review authorities of the president, the government and the parliament, ensure the independence of the judiciary from the government, expand freedom of expression and individual and collective freedoms and eliminate financial influence on politics and other issues related to the society.
The new constitution of Algeria has considered a set of rights and freedoms; however, it considers great powers still for the president and increases the powers of the Army. The main provision of the new constitution is its prohibition of a term in office for more than two-five years for the president. Also, the prime minister shall be chosen from the majority of the parliament and the Army shall be permitted to participate in assignments outsider of the Algerian borders conditional on the positive vote of two-thirds of parliament members. Article 30 of the new constitution emphasizes that the Army shall defend the critical and strategic interests of the country. Observers believe that the government of Algeria could define political roles for the Army and expand its authorities and functions on the basis of this article.
Many of the provisions of Algeria’s new constitution have caused controversy among the citizens and political and cultural figures as well as the parliamentarians. Hakim Berry, an MP affiliated to the Movement of Society for Peace has accused the government of inability in controlling economic and social crises in Algeria. He believes that the incumbent government is the most incompetent government in the history of Algeria. The poor performance of most of the government ministers has raised a public outcry. The parliament of Algeria should be examining carefully the reasons behind limited participation of Algerians in the referendum on the amended constitution. In fact, by their absence in the polling stations, the people punished the government for its lies. The result of the referendum demonstrated that there is a deep gap between the government and the people. Another group of the MPs are accusing the incumbent government of mismanaging economic affairs. Corruption in the agriculture cooperative funds, incapability to create new job opportunities, the crisis of liquidity and absence of necessary medical and health-related infrastructure to combat Covid-19 are other issues the MPs are blaming on the government.