Bouteflika announces constitutional revisions

In a speech to mark the new judicial year, Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced changes to the country's constitution designed to strengthen the executive branch and allow the president to seek a third term in office.



President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, reaching the end of his second and final term, said on Wednesday he wanted to alter Algeria's constitution in a manner several analysts interpreted as meaning he intends to stay on.


Here is a look at the issues at stake for the north African OPEC member country, whose oil and gas export revenues make it Africa's third largest economy.


What are the implications ?


Such a move would allow Bouteflika, 71, to stand for a third term in a presidential election set for April 2009.


Bouteflika is in the final months of his second term, but has not yet said publicly whether he would like to stand for a third term. Many observers expect him to contest the poll.


Under the law parliament and the senate must either reject or pass the amendments with no discussion. The current constitution limits presidents to two five-year terms.

The likely next steps

Assuming he wishes to stand, the only potential obstacle to Bouteflika contesting the poll would be his health, which has been uncertain at times in recent years. He underwent medical checks in France in April 2006 and had an operation there for a haemorrhagic stomach ulcer in December 2005.


If he does contest the poll and is victorious, he could carry on in power until 2014, assuming that the new constitution continues to set presidential terms at five years. Born on March 2, 1937, he would turn 77 in the final month of his third term.


If he wants to contest the polls, he will probably announce his intention before year's end -- and certainly well before the the start of the official month-long campaign period which will start in March 2009.



What would be his chance in the 2009 polls ?


At present, very good. No leading politician has yet emerged to challenge Bouteflika. That is apparently because many of the possible contenders suspect his likely candidature has won the tacit consent of the secretive military group known as "le pouvoir" (the power) which has dominated Algerian politics since independence from France in 1962.


Ali Belhadj, a firebrand leader of the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front which wants to establish a purist Islamic state, said he plans to stand. But he is barred from political activity under restrictions imposed on him in the 1990s.


Three influential opposition figures have announced an informal opposition alliance to lobby for political change, but are expected to boycott the poll. The three are former prime minister Mouloud Hamrouche, opposition Socialist Forces Front leader Hocine Ait Ahmed and AbdelHamid Mehri, a former Secretary-General of Bouteflika's National Liberation Front.


If Bouteflika wins, will anything change ?


Most probably not. Supporters say a third term would see a continuation of a reconstruction push in which the state has built homes, roads, hospitals, schools and airports.


Critics fear Bouteflika would continue a preference for statist, socialist-oriented economic policies aimed at minimising foreign involvement and maximising the control of the state in guiding economic development.


A third term would also imply a continuation of Bouteflika's security policies, which have tackled lingering Islamist militant violence with a so-called peace and reconciliation programme that gives amnesty to rebels who disarm.


On the political front, a ban on opposition Islamist parties is likely to remain in place.


Who is calling on him to stand?


Such calls to date have come mainly from groups linked to Bouteflika's National Liberation Front, the party whose military wing spearheaded the 1954-62 war for independence from France.


But allies in an influential national network of moderate religious foundations known as zaouias have echoed that call.

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