Algerian referendum looms as test for president and opposition

A horizontal map image of Algeria
A horizontal map image of Algeria

A vote on a new constitution in Algeria in November marks a turning point for a country that has been rocked by huge protests and political upheaval and which is now struggling to move on from the tumult.

For President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, adoption of the charter would be a welcome new beginning after his predecessor, and many top officials were toppled by mass demonstrations last year.

For the “Hirak” opposition movement, the Nov. 1 referendum will show what clout it still has, after its protests ended the 20-year rule of veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika but failed to achieve its ambitions of deeper change.

The weekly mass protests, which sought to sweep away the entire ruling elite, were put on hold when the coronavirus pandemic reached the north African country in March.

Abdelaziz Djerad, the prime minister appointed by Tebboune in January, recently told parliament the referendum should be a “day for consensus” among all Algerians.

It fits with Tebboune’s narrative of the mass demonstrations as a moment of national renewal that ousted corrupt officials and, its ends achieved, is now over.

“Hirak demands are in the new constitution. It is important to pass it,” Abdelhamid Si Afif, a senior ruling party member, told Reuters.

However, though it is now six months since they last paraded through the boulevards of central Algiers, prominent figures in the leaderless opposition do not see it Tebboune’s way.

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