Algerians Vote On Constitutional Referendum

On November 1, 2020, Algerians voted in a referendum to an amendment to the constitution that would limit presidential terms to two and create an anti-corruption body.  The following day, the National Independent Elections Authority announced that the referendum was passed with a vote of 66.8%. However, less than a quarter of eligible voters turned up at the polls, which is a result of dissatisfaction felt by the general public and voter disenfranchisement by the Algerian government.

In the area of Tizi-Ouzou, residents shut down the polling places in protest of the referendum, as they believed that this referendum was not enough to move towards a stable democracy. Different parties are greatly against the referendum, as Islamist parties—such as the Movement for the Society of Peace, the Al-Nahda Movement, and the Movement for Justice and Development—believe the referendum does not promote the religion and the Arabic language enough, while pro-democracy activist groups, such as the Pact for a Democratic Alternative, claim that it does not open up avenues for a new generation of political leaders.

Coronavirus has also played a major role in voter turnout, as there are currently 1,964 deaths as a result of the pandemic. In response to these protests caused by the dissatisfaction felt with the referendum, the Algerian government annulled voting in 63 of the 67 towns in the Tizi-Ouzou area.

The referendum was supposedly designed to meet the demands of the Hirak Movement, according to Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad. The Hirak Movement, also known as the Revolution of Smiles, began on February 10, 2019, shortly after the former President of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, announced his candidacy for his fifth presidential term. However, the discontent with former President Bouteflika began long before he announced his run for a fifth term. In 2003, Bouteflika sought to consolidate power and restore Algeria’s image to the international community. He formed partnerships with Chinese companies to engage in massive construction projects, with up to fifteen billion euros going towards these projects. His administration has widely been accused of corruption, with two of the vice presidents of state-owned Sonatrach, an oil and gas company, being imprisoned and many other executives within the company being placed under judicial supervision.

Mainly triggered by former President Bouteflika’s announcement for his re-election, protests originally began in northern Algeria, particularly in Kherrata, but eventually spread to the rest of the nation, eventually leading to the long-awaited resignation of former President Bouteflika on April 2, 2019. On December 12, 2019, presidential elections were held and Abdelmadjid Tebboune was declared as the president. Tebboune promised to address what activists had declared as a continuous overreach of the government, even with the new president’s ascension to power, which is how this referendum came to fruition.

For peace to be achieved in Algeria and a fair and just democracy to be established, new leaders must be elected that represent the various beliefs of Algerians. Both the opinions of the Islamist parties and the pro-democracy parties should be able to implement change if the Algerian population votes for it rather than having the political sphere dominated by the elite. Voting must also be accessible for all Algerians in order to provide lasting change, instead of disenfranchising voters and annulling voting in towns as the Algerian government has done with this referendum.

Considering the current pandemic, the Algerian government must work to ensure voting is safe for all individuals, particularly those with pre-existing conditions, and must establish the necessary protocols to ensure safe voting during these times. As for the international community, nations should monitor elections held in Algeria to ensure standards for democracy are being followed throughout the country and publicly condemn when voters in Algeria are being disenfranchised.