Constitution Writing & Conflict Resolution
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Algeria 1989

Algeria’s 1989 constitutional reforms were prompted by unrest among the country’s youth, who blamed widespread economic hardships (exacerbated by the collapse of oil prices in the mid- 1980s) on the rigid economic policies of the ruling socialist party. The youth were supported in their protests by many others in the country, who expressed general dissatisfaction with the single-party, military-based regime that had dominated since independence in 1962. In October 1988, a major riot erupted, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives and widespread property damage in Algerian cities. The president immediately responded by dismissing several high-ranking officials. On October 12th, he announced his intention to modify 14 articles of the constitution as a means to decrease the ruling party’s power in government. Although the campaign for these amendments was calm, there was considerable dissent from the president’s proposed plan. Opposition leaders, who were particularly vocal in urban centers, pointed to the failure to address the need for political pluralism and called for a boycott of the referendum. The November 3rd referendum, however, attracted the participation of 82% of the electorate, and 92% of those who participated voted in favor of the president’s proposed plan for constitutional amendment.

In November, a congress of the ruling party determined that opposition political parties would remain illegal. On December 22, the incumbent president ran unopposed as the official party’s candidate and was re-elected to a third five-year term by winning over 80% of the votes.

Constitution writing then entered a second phase. The president appointed a 3-member committee to draft a completely new constitution. The committee took steps to consult with union leaders, civic groups, and others. On February 4, the president accepted and announced the text, which was published in Arabic and French in the newspapers. A referendum on the new draft was held on February 23, less than 3 weeks after the draft was published. Against strong opposition among unionists and party stalwarts, and despite efforts by radical Islamic fundamentalist groups to boycott the referendum (in preference for a constitution that would be based on Sharia law), 79% of eligible voters turned out to vote, and 73% voted in support of the referendum.

The new constitution avoided any reference to socialism and opened the door to a multi-party system. A broad range of civic and political organizations immediately emerged. On July 5, 1989, the legislature passed a law defining the conditions for creating and recognizing political associations and by January 1990, 20 political parties had won official recognition. However, when the first (legislative) multiparty election (held December 26, 1991), produced a radical Islamic group as the strongest party, the government canceled the results. A subsequent president dissolved the party in question in 1992, but the role of religion-based political parties continued to be a source of tension for the government, becoming cause for further constitutional reforms in 1996.

 

 

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