Constitution Writing & Conflict Resolution
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Algeria 1976

An institutional crisis sparked the 1976 revision of Algeria’s constitution. The incumbent president had claimed power in 1965 after a coup against his predecessors. He had governed by decree for eleven years. Politicians and intellectuals (in France as well as Algeria) had started to protest that the regime was corrupt, autocratic, and inegalitarian.

On June 19, 1975, the president announced procedures for preparing a new national charter, which would lay the groundwork for a revised constitution. In November 1975, a committee of four prominent politicians, appointed by the head of state, developed the initial text of the charter. The president, the Revolutionary Council and the cabinet negotiated amendments to this version over a period of three months. They published the results of their deliberations in a semi-official newspaper in April 1976. The draft charter sparked nationwide discussion, involving hundreds of thousands of people and hundreds of meetings. The final draft of the much-revised charter was put to a referendum on June 27, 1976, with 98% of a total voter turnout of 91% casting affirmative votes.

A constitution drafting commission started its work when the new charter came into force on July 5, 1976. This small constitutional commission was appointed by the executive and consulted with executive branch leaders in closed sessions over a period of four months to produce a text. The resulting document was adopted by a conference of officials and FLN (ruling party) members on November 6. It was published in French and Arabic on November 9 and put to a referendum on November 19, 1976. An estimated 92% of eligible voters turned out to cast their votes, and 98% of them voted to approve the constitution.

The constitution provided for the restoration of the national assembly, which had been suspended since the 1965 cou, and reaffirmed the election of the President by direct and universal suffrage. The text reasserted socialism as the Algerian people’s “irreversible choice” and confirmed the socialist party’s status as the single legitimate party. On December 29, 1976, the President issued an executive order specifying principles and procedures for electing the Assembly. In February 1977, nearly three quarters of voters elected 261 of the 783 single party candidates to the legislature.

The new constitution did not end public protest, although open dissent diminished. Many later complained that the amendments did not effect major shifts in how power was wielded. Political authority remained centralized in the hands of the Revolutionary Council, which was headed by the president and his closest friends. Despite ruling party efforts to win favor among Algerians in Rabat, Algiers, Tunis, and Paris, opposition continued to be particularly strong in major urban centers.

 

 

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