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Algeria adopts constitutional reforms

[JURIST] The Algerian Parliament on Sunday approved a package of constitutional reforms by a vote of 499-2, with 16 abstentions. The reforms include a two-term limit for the office of the president [Al Jazeera report] and recognition of the Amazigh language as an official language in Algeria. Amazigh is spoken by the nation's indigenous Berber population. While Amazigh was recognized as a national language in 2002, the constitutional reforms mean the language will be accepted on official government documentation [BBC report]. The two-term limit was lifted in 2008 to allow current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika [BBC profile] to run for a third term. Bouteflika was elected to another five-year term in 2014, but concerns about his health following a stroke in 2013 have led many to question if he will remain in office until the end of this term in 2019. The Algerian press service announced [press release, in French] the new constitution is a "consecration of the rule of law and true democracy." Supporters of the constitutional reforms in Algeria argue the new laws will support real democracy, while critics suggest there will be little practical change.

The modification of presidential term limits by constitutional reform has long been an issue in many African nations. Last month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged [JURIST report] African leaders to avoid using loopholes and undemocratic constitutional changes to "cling to power." In his address at the twenty-sixth African Union [official website] Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Ban stated, "[l]eaders should never use undemocratic constitutional changes and legal loopholes to cling to power. We have all seen the tragic consequences when they do. Leaders must protect their people, not themselves." He also lauded those African leaders who have stepped down from their positions and respected constitutional term limits. In January protests and demonstrations took place across the Democratic Republic of Congo [JURIST report] to oppose the proposed changes in national law that would allow President Joseph Kabila to extend his presidential term past the allotted two-year limit.

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