A constitution adopted with a 23.72% participation

Algeria adopts new constitution amidst uncertainty and seeking to break the deadlock

PHOTO/AFP - Voto constitución argelina

The result of the constitutional referendum held on Sunday 1 November in Algeria is the result of a paradox, a symbolic day marking the anniversary of the 1954 uprising against French colonisation. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was hospitalised in Germany after contracting the COVID-19, was not even present in Algeria on the day of the vote. Elected last December with a 39.88 percent turnout and in a particular context, when the Hirak demonstrations were in full swing, Tebboune urgently needed a "test" to make up for this "deficit" in legitimacy.

The population moved away from the ballot box and the participation rate was the lowest since independence in 1962. Although the "yes" vote was 66.8 percent, the low turnout of 23.7 percent cast a shadow over the popular legitimacy that President Abdelmadjid Tebboune wished to attribute to his political response to the protest that had shaken Algeria throughout 2019. He failed to secure 33.20 percent of the vote, according to Mohamed Charfi, president of the Algerian electoral commission, at a press conference, welcoming "an essential step towards building a new Algeria".

Segunda ola de COVID-19 en Europa

One of the reasons for this low turnout was the way the text was prepared, which was not discussed until shortly before the start of the election campaign. In any event, this low turnout does nothing to help the affairs of the head of state, who would undoubtedly have liked to give legitimacy to his flagship project.

The mobilisation of the television media, the involvement of the government and the organisation of dozens of meetings, led by the FLN and RND parties, the UGTA and civil society organisations (Algerian Red Crescent, Muslim Scouts, etc.) did everything possible to convince at least some Algerians to go to the polling stations on 1 November. But in the end this was not enough to secure an "acceptable" turnout. 

Behind the apparent political deadlock, the opposition faces a major challenge. The leaders of Hirak, tormented by the bitter experiences of the past, however, have just faced the power with the necessity to negotiate with them. An operation to restore public opinion that began with the December presidential elections, in which turnout had reached a maximum of 40 percent.

Stephanie Williams, enviada especial para la misión de la ONU en Libia

Such an opening would be a decisive step in a country with immense potential, but which has been blocked for decades by an oligarchy that is stuck in oil revenues. If, on the contrary, the regime were to prolong the stagnation, the risk of decline would be great, especially in the Kabylia area, where few voters turned up at some polling stations on Sunday. As for the Islamists, like the MSP and Adala, they have lost some of their influence but have managed to play the game of the referendum and remain in the shadows in the hope of one day coming to power.

Algeria is breaking with its tradition of non-intervention

Algeria wishes to establish itself as a key player in the Sahel crisis owing to its geostrategic importance. Concerned about the risks of instability on its borders, the country intends to play an active role on the regional stage, in Libya and the Sahel, with varying degrees of success. Proof of this are the two visits since the coup d'état in Mali on 18 August by the head of Algerian diplomacy, Sabri Boukadoum, the first member of a foreign government to visit Bamako.

Algeria, concerned about the risks of instability at its borders, intends to play an active role in Mali, where it retains influence over the political and military groups in the north. This Algerian concern about the Sahelo-Saharan convulsions is not unrelated to one of the issues at stake in the constitutional review, which was ratified by referendum on Sunday 1 November. For the first time since Algeria's independence in 1962, the Algerian Basic Law expressly refers to "sending units of the National People's Army abroad", which runs counter to the tradition of non-intervention.

Mohamed Charfi, derecha, jefe de la Autoridad Nacional de Elecciones deArgelia presenta los resultados del referéndum de Argel, el lunes 2 de noviembre de2020. 

The revised Constitution establishes a framework for the projection of the National People's Army in military scenarios abroad. A decision by the head of state after approval by two-thirds of each house of parliament (Article 91). In addition, participation in peacekeeping missions is possible "within the framework of respect for the principles and objectives of the United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League" (Article 31).