Table of Contents

Introduction

The People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria achieved independence from France in 1962. It has since been ruled by the National Liberation Front, the dominating political party since independence. Abdel Aziz Bouteflika has been president and head of state since April 1999.

History of the Constitution

  • The president and the parliament have the right to initiate amendments to the constitution. A parliamentary initiative requires a three-quarters majority of the members of the two chambers sitting in a joint session at the request of the Speaker of the National Council. Amendments must be adopted by both chambers according to the procedure used for any other law, and then submitted to a referendum within 50 days. If the Constitutional Council agrees, the amendment does not have to be submitted to a referendum.

  • Amendments cannot abrogate the republican nature of the state, the multiparty system, national identity (state religion and official language), fundamental rights and liberties, or territorial integrity.

  • Since 1963, Algeria has frequently amended its constitution, and even written new ones. The 1963 constitution was abolished in 1965 after a coup d’etat. In 1976, the national Charter and a new constitution were drafted and approved by national referenda. The new constitution asserted a commitment to socialism and declared the National Liberation Front (FLN) the sole legitimate political party. Amendments in 1989 ended the commitment to socialism and the FLN’s monopoly, but consolidated the powers of the president.

  • The 1989 Constitution was suspended in 1992 and amended in 1996.

State Institutions

Algeria is a people's democratic republic.

The 1996 Constitution (English Text, French Text) vests supreme executive power in the president of the Republic who “exercises supreme magistracy within the limits defined by the Constitution.”

Executive Branch

The President

The president is the head of State and:

  • Appoints and dismisses the prime minister.
  • Appoints members of the government chosen by the prime minister.
  • Presides over the Council of Ministers.
  • Appoints the 42 governors (walis) and magistrates.
  • May dissolve the parliament.
  • May call for early legislative elections.
  • May declare a state of emergency.
  • May declare war and general mobilization.
  • May rule by decree.
  • May initiate revision of the Constitution.
  • Commands the armed forces.
  • Is responsible for national defense.
  • Decides and conducts foreign policy.
  • Can approve the government’s annual budget by decree if it is rejected by the Parliament.

The president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. Candidates can be nominated by the Constitutional Council, either by 600 local and national elected officials or by a popular petition of at least 75,000 registered voters.

President Bouteflika was elected for a third term in April 2009. The parliament voted on November 2008 to remove the two-term limits, allowing him to run for a third term.

The Prime Minister

The prime minister:

  • May initiate legislation.
  • Signs executive decrees.
  • Decides and presents the government’s program.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika appointed Ahmed Ouyahia, president of the Democratic National Rally, on June 2008, replacing Abdelaziz Belkahdem who served from May 2006 until June 2008. Observers believe that Ouyahia’s appointment is an attempt to neutralize him as a contender for the presidency and give the sense that there is consensus among the political elites in Algeria.

The Cabinet

The cabinet:

  • Is appointed by the president, based on the prime minister’s recommendations.
  • Is responsible before the parliament and the president.
  • Meets as the“Council of Ministers” in the presence of the president, and as the “Council of Government” in his absence. In both cases, the cabinet can approve legislation.

Members of the government cannot be indicted.

Legislative Branch

The 1996 Constitution introduced a bicameral legislature consisting of the National Popular Assembly (Assemblée Populaire Nationale/ al-Majlis al-Shabi al-Watani) (APN) and the National Council (Conseil de la Nation/ Majlis al Oumma). Both chambers enjoy legislative and oversight functions. Legislation may be initiated by either one of the parliamentary chambers or the head of government. Any law must be considered first by the APN and then by the National Council.

The National Popular Assembly

The National Popular Assembly is the more influential of the two chambers. It has 389 members, with eight seats reserved for Algerians residing abroad.

The National Popular Assembly:

  • Is elected for five years by proportional representation, by list-based constituencies.
  • Is elected on the basis of universal suffrage for individuals 18 years and older.
  • Can be dissolved by the president after consultation with the speakers of the APN and National Council, and with the prime minister. If the APN is dissolved, general elections must be held within three months.
  • May dissolve the cabinet through a two-thirds vote of no confidence.

Elections were last held on May 17, 2007. The next elections are scheduled for 2012. Click here for a full list in Arabic of current MPs.

Algeria is one of the few countries that provides legislative seats for citizens living abroad; eight seats represent the Algerian community abroad.

The National Council

The National Council:

  • Has 144 members. Two-thirds (96) are elected by members of local assemblies and one-third (48) are appointed by the president to a six-year term.
  • Members appointed by the president work as a single parliamentary group.
  • Must approve laws by a three-fourths majority vote.

Half ofthe members of the National Council are renewed every three years. Elections were last held in 2009.

Judiciary

The constitution formally protects the independence of the judiciary. However, the president has considerable control over the judiciary because he also serves as the president of the High Council of Magistracy. (The minister of justice is its vice-president).

Judiciary Councils
  • The High Council of Magistracy (Conseil Superieur de la Magistrature) is the judiciary’s regulatory body. It handles appointments, careers of judges, and disciplinary matters. It is headed by the President of the Republic (Art.154-157).

  • The Constitutional Council (Conseil Constitutionnel), established in 1989, handles matters of constitutionality and judges the validity of elections and referenda. The Council is composed of nine members: three appointed by the president, two by each parliamentary chamber, one by the Supreme Court, and one by the State Council. Its president is appointed to a six year-term and one-half of the remaining members are replaced every three years. The president and the speakers of the two houses of parliament are allowed to consult the Constitutional Council (Art. 163-169).

  • The High Islamic Council (Haut Conseil Islamique) is a consultative body in the area of religious affairs (Art. 171-172).

  • The High Security Council (Haute Conseil de Securite) is a consultative body in the area of security affairs (Art. 173).
Courts

Lower Courts

There are 218 courts of first instance called the tribunal courts at the sub-province level (daira). Tribunal courts hear civil, labor, and commercial litigation and some criminal matters. There are no separate Sharia courts for personal status cases.

Courts of Appeal

Daira courts are grouped within each province under the jurisdiction of the provincial court (wilaya), which consists of panels of three judges, who hear appeals from the tribunal courts. Forty-eight wilaya courts are organized regionally into four chambers: civil, criminal, administrative, and accusation.

High Court (Cour Supreme)

The highest court is the High Court, which is divided into 8 chambers: civil, social, commercial and maritime, property, criminal, personal status, and injunctions.

Council of State (Conseil d’Etat)

The Council of State has jurisdiction over administrative cases. It was reestablished in 1998 after being abolished in the 1960s. The Council of State gives its opinion on draft laws before they are examined by the cabinet. Under the current constitution it can also settle electoral disputes and appeals, which were previously settled by the Constitutional Council.

Tribunal of Conflicts (Tribunal des Conflits)

The Tribunal of Conflicts settles jurisdictional disputes between the High Court and the Council of State. It was established on December 30, 2004.

Other Courts

  • The High Court of State (Haute Cour de l’Etat), introduced by the 1996 Constitution, is empowered to judge the president on high treason and the head of government for crimes and offenses (but not other government members). Many senior officials have been accused of corruption but not tried.

  • An Accounts Court (Cour de Comptes) has existed since 1979 and was strengthened in 1995. It has gained a meaningful degree of independence from the presidency since its reform in 1995.

  • Special courts for terrorist offenses existed between 1993 and 1995. They were replaced by a Criminal Court that hears cases related to terrorism and subversion.

  • When the state of emergency was declared in 1991, the Military Tribunal courts assumed judicial functions beyond merely ruling over military offenses. Currently, they only deal with disciplinary issues within the military. They are formally under the control of the Supreme Court.
Reforms Under Discussion
  • A process of judicial reform has been underway since 2004. This includes revision of the penal code and penal procedures; prison reform; review of competences assigned to the High Judicial Council and the Ministry of Justice; and review of the professional career structures of magistrates and judicial staff.

  • A range of administrative laws and the 1975 Civil Code are being condensed into a new Code of Civil Procedure, which has been under discussion since October 2004.

Military

The military does not have a formal statutory role in the country, but it is still considered an influential player with ties to the executive.

Political Environment

Political Parties

Twenty-two political parties are represented in the National Assembly. They include:

  • The ruling alliance is composed of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the Democratic National Rally (RND), and the Islamist party Movement of Society for Peace (Harakat Moujtama al-Silm). Together, the parties won 249 of 389 seats in the May 17, 2007 legislative elections.

  • The opposition party with the most seats (26 of 389) was the Worker's Party (Parti des Travailleurs, Hizb al-Ummal).

  • The Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) gained 19 seats in the election. It boycotted the 2002 elections. Its principal power base is in Kabyle (a Berber region).

  • Other parties with seats in parliament include: the National Algerian Front (FNA, nationalist); Algerian Renewal Party (PRA, right wing), the National Entente Movement (MEN, nationalist); the National Renovation Movement (or al-Islah, Islamist); and al-Nahda Movement (Islamist).

There has been some discussion of re-legalizing the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) after its leaders Abbasi Madani and Ali Belhadj completed their twelve-year prison terms in 2004. The idea, sometimes discussed by President Bouteflika, seems increasingly unlikely.

Election Results

Results for presidential election, held on April 9, 2009
Name of Candidate Party % of popular vote
Abdelaziz Bouteflika Democratic National Rally (RND) 90.2
Louisa Hannone Workers Party 4.2
Mousa Touati Algerian National Front 2.3
Djahid Younsi Movement for National Reform 1.3
Fawzi Rebaine Ahd 54 0.9
  • The Socialist Forces Front and Rally for Culture and Democracy boycotted the election. Voter turnout was reported at 74 percent.

  • Opposition candidates accused the government of fraud, but international observers discovered no evidence of irregularities.
Results for parliamentary elections (APN), held on May 17, 2007
Party % of popular vote Seats won
FLN 34.96 136
RND 15.68 61
MSP 13.37 52
Independents 8.48 33
Workers Party 6.68 26
RCD 4.88 19
FNA 3.34 13
Nahda 1.29 5
Al-Islah 0.33 3
  • Click here for detailed results in French.

  • Voter Turnout: 35%.

  • Opposition parties accused the government of blocking the main opposition party, al-Islah, from contesting the results. Interior Minister Noureddine Zerhouni stated that Abdullah Djaballah was no longer the party's authorized leader because he had not held a party congress as required by law. Djaballah announced his party would boycott the elections, but a small faction of al-Islah that contests Djaballah's leadership participated. Al-Islah won only three seats in the elections, down from 43 seats in the 2002 elections.

  • Approximately 15 percent of the 6.6 million ballots were declared void.

  • Sa'id Bouchair, the head of the Independent National Political Commission of Election Surveillance, initially reported that ballot boxes in the Algiers District and the southern city of al-Oued were being stuffed with FLN ballots, and that observers were being prevented from attending. He later retracted his statement and apologized. The Constitutional Council rejected appeals regarding the election on May 30, 2007.
Results for local elections (APC and APW), held in November 2007
Party % of popular vote
FLN 30
RND 24.5
FNA 11.29
MSP 10.69
Workers Party 6.85
RCD 4.35
SFF 4.05
Independents 3.88
Annahda 1.75

Voter turnout was reported at 44.09 percent.

Civil Society and Nongovernmental Actors

There were 1,044 national non-governmental organizations in Algeria in 2000, according to the Union of International Associations (UIA). Official sources list over 70,000 associations, including both local and national entities.

Unions
  • General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA)—composed of national unions specialized by sector).
  • Autonomous unions: Air Algeria Pilots (SPLA), professors (CNES), National Syndicate of Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP), teachers (CANAPEST, CLA, and SATEF).
  • Trade Associations: The Algerian Confederation of Businessmen (CAP), the General Confederation of the Algerian Economic Operators (UGEA).
  • National Council of Syndicate Liberties (CNLS)—an umbrella group for nine autonomous unions that defend labor liberties.

The UGTA has become heavily politicized. It is accused of acting in the interest of the regime and of collaborating with the Algerian government to undermine union pluralism. The government refuses to engage with autonomous unions. Numerous autonomous unions have denounced acts of harassment and repression. The SNAPAP has since 2001 repeatedly filed complaints against the Algerian government at the International Labor Organization. A 2002 report by the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) highlights instances of the violation of union freedoms.

Other Actors
  • Political pressure groups: the Berber Cultural Movement (MCB), and several (rival) women’s groups.

  • There are two independent human rights groups: the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) and the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADH).

  • Algerian human rights organizations have been repeatedly harassed and several of their members have been imprisoned.

  • Islamic brotherhoods (zawyias) and tribes are important local actors in the interior of the country. The National Association of Zawyias, for instance, has given its support to President Bouteflika in several electoral processes. Tribes occasionally play political roles, as in the case of the Kabyle Protest Movement.

Civil and Political Rights

Personal Liberties

  • The constitution protects the freedom of creed, opinion, expression, and movement; the freedom of association and public gathering; and the freedom to join unions and establish political parties.

  • Fundamental freedoms and rights are not protected under organic laws, which take precedence over standard legislation and require a higher (two-thirds) majority to amend.

  • The 1992 Emergency Law imposes various limitations on the exercise of personal freedoms, especially relating to the freedom of assembly and expression.

  • Human right activists have been imprisoned in recent years.

  • The use of torture has not completely disappeared and prison conditions are sub-standard.

  • The death of 100 prisoners in Serkadji in 1994 was never properly investigated.

  • The case of a Kabyle teenager shot to death in police quarters in 2001 sparked the Kabyle protest movement “Mouvement des arouch.”

  • Religious freedom, despite some advances, is not complete. Non-Muslim religious practices in public are not allowed, although tolerated in practice. Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men under the Family Code regulations.

  • The 1966 penal code provides for the death penalty.

  • The Civil Concorde Law (Loi sur la concorde civile) includes amnesty laws that benefit members of armed groups.

  • The New York-based organization Human Rights Watch provides a comprehensive overview of human rights developments in Algeria.

Legislation Regulating the Exercise of Rights

Political Party Laws
  • The Algerian Constitution of 1996 guarantees the right to establish political parties. Political parties cannot be founded on religious, linguistic, racial, sexual, corporatist, or regional criteria, and cannot engage in violence.

  • The 1997 law on political parties states that political parties must refrain from using Islamic, Arab, and Berber identities for partisan purposes. Political parties must comply with the principles of the 1954 revolution; reject violence; respect individual and collective freedoms; work toward national unity; and adhere to political pluralism. Parties are also prohibited from having illegal contacts with foreign entities (Art. 7), from being dependent on trade unions or civic associations (Art. 8), and from receiving foreign funding (Art. 31).

  • The Ministry of Interior must approve all political parties and appeals may be directed to the State Council. The Ministry can bring to trial any political party or its members for contravening the Law on Political Parties. Sanctions (such as fines, imprisonment, or dissolution) are imposed by the courts and the parties can appeal to the State Council.

  • Some political parties, while fulfilling the above legal requirements, are refused legal status. One such example is the Wafa party.
Electoral Law
  • The 1997 Electoral Law (Arabic Text, French Text) established a system of proportional representation under the “Hare” formula, which tends to over-represent larger parties. A party that receives as little as 30 percent of the popular vote can obtain two-thirds of the seats in parliament.

  • Election procedures were amended in 2004 following a proposal by the Islah party. These amendments strengthened control and supervision mechanisms, especially those allocated to political party officials. They also abolished the special voting college for Army officers. Although no provision was made for international observers, some observers were allowed towards the end of the 2004 electoral campaign, in time to oversee the voting.
Law on Associations
  • The 1990 Law on Associations states that civil society groups (associations or NGOs) must retain autonomy from political parties; cannot federate with foreign entities; and must publish principally in Arabic. Licenses are granted by the Ministry of Interior. Associations can be dissolved by administrative courts.

  • The 1990 Law on Labor Unions (French Text) requires a license granted by the Ministry of Labor in order to establish a trade union.

  • State authorities have failed to recognize unions other than the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA) as valid partners in negotiations. For example, the Comité National de Libertés Syndicales (CNLS), a group of unions operating in the fields of administration, education, and health, was denied recognition.
Media Laws
  • The 1990 Press Law specifies that freedom of speech must respect individual dignity and the imperatives of foreign policy and national defense.

  • The Press Law also set up a twelve-member High Council of Information. (Six members were appointed by the president and the parliament; the other six were chosen by journalists). The High Council of Information, together with Ministry of Interior and the National Library, licenses new publications after vetting several issues.

  • The government owns the official press agency Algérie Press Service, and numerous Arabic and French newspapers, such as al-Moujahid/al-Sha’ab, Horizons and al-Massa. It also controls the state-owned television (ENTV) and the Radiodifussion Algérienne, as well as most radio stations.

  • Some independent newspapers were set up in the early 1990s when journalists were encouraged by the state to set up new publications with the assistance of public funds.

  • In 1994, the government issued a decree stipulating that independent newspapers could only print security-related information based on official government bulletins.

  • The revision of the Penal Code in 2001 added severe sanctions for journalists and newspapers, ranging from suspension of duties to heavy fines (500,000 Algerian dinars), and 24-month prison terms for defamation or insult of government figures, civil servants, judges, and military officers. Journalists can be tried for offending the head of state (up to twelve months in prison and 250,000 dinars), Islam (up to five years and 100,000 dinars) and other religions (up to three years in prison and 50,000 DA). The Press Law also states that journalists can be imprisoned for up to ten years for endangering state security and national unity.

  • Members of the media watchdog group International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) criticized Algerian authorities for using the criminal code to jail journalists who report critically on the government and the military. For more information, click here.

  • Despite penal legislation against defamation, journalists have continued to criticize the government and the presidency, and indeed did so especially in the run up to the 2004 presidential elections. This has resulted in the severe application of sanctions against several journalists and newspapers. Mohamed Benchicou (editor of Le Matin), and Hafnaoui Ghoul (journalist for el-Djazair News and human rights activist) have been arrested and suspended.

  • In an unprecedented move, Bouteflika announced on May 3, 2006 a pardon for journalists sentenced to prison for “gross insult to state officials, offending the president of the republic, injuring state institutions, defamation, and insult.” The pardon only applies to journalists who have been definitively convicted after appeal, and not to those whose appeals are still pending. Benchicou was released on June 14, 2006 after serving two years in prison on charges of violating currency regulations. The charges were viewed by human rights groups as retaliation for his newspaper’s critical editorial line.

  • According to the annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, Algeria ranks 123 of 169 countries. The index runs from 1 (most press freedom) to 169 (least press freedom).
Reforms Under Discussion

The Algerian cabinet proposed amendments to the electoral law on June 13, 2007 that would adjust the requirements for political parties and independents participating in local and legislative elections. If adopted by the People's National Assembly, only parties receiving more than 4 percent of the votes in one of the last three legislative elections and over 2,000 votes in each of 25 provinces would be eligible to propose slates of candidates. Parties would also qualify if they have at least 600 elected members in the local or national assemblies, distributed across at least twenty-five provinces, with no fewer than 20 elected members per province. First-time participants in legislative elections would need to secure signatures from at least 400 registered electors for each seat contested; for local elections they would need the signatures of at least 5 percent of registered voters in the local district. If the law is passed, only nine parties—FLN, the National Rally for Democracy (RND), the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), the Workers Party, the Algerian National Front, the Movement for National Reform (al-Islah), the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), the Front of Socialist Forces, and the Islamic al-Nahda Movement—would be eligible to field candidates in local elections scheduled for November 2007.

Personal Status Law

The Family Law adopted in 1984 was a conservative text, even relative to the provisions of other Arab states. President Bouteflika has pushed for reform of the Family Law, despite opposition from within the establishment and by Islamists. A presidential “ordonnance” was approved by Parliament in late March 2005. It enshrines reforms that give women equal rights to divorce, and equal rights and duties in marriage; requires the husband to obtain permission from a judge to marry a second wife; and allows women to marry without permission. It fails to abolish the figure of wali, or tutor; the reform package requires the presence of a wali in marriage but allows women over 19 to choose who the wali will be.

Recent Government Initiatives Affecting Rights

  • President Bouteflika organized a referendum on September 29, 2006 on the “Draft Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation” (French Text), an amnesty law that grants exemption from prosecution to any member of an armed group, state-armed militia, or the security forces for crimes committed in the conflict that began in 1992. The charter denies state responsibility for “disappearances” and claims that any wrongful acts committed by state agents have already been punished, but promises families of the disappeared compensation and recognition as “victims of the national tragedy.” The charter was approved by 97.36 percent of the vote with a 79.76 percent voter turnout, results unprecedented since Algeria's referendum for independence in 1962. Click here for a detailed analysis of the charter by Human Rights Watch.

  • The Algerian government announced on March 1, 2006 that it would release approximately 2,600 Islamists detained during Algeria's 1990s conflict. As part of this initiative, Algerian authorities released 150 prisoners on March 4, 2006 and the deputy-chairman of the banned Islamic Front for Salvation (FIS) Ali Belhadj on March 6, 2006. Belhadj was arrested in July 2005 on charges of encouraging terrorism; he had previously served a twelve-year term with FIS Chairman Abbasi Madani. The releases came after the Algerian government approved on February 21, 2006 the implementation of the provisions in the National Peace and Reconciliation Charter.

  • In September 2003, President Bouteflika created a commission to investigate the cases of disappearance in Algeria. The commission provided information to nearly 2,000 families and recommended financial compensation. Military authorities claim to have sanctioned 400 officials found guilty of abuses. However, there are still thousands of unresolved cases and little evidence of proper trials of the alleged perpetrators. Human rights organizations have criticized government officials for denying most allegations on the basis of the absence of formal complaints. There are reports of relatives of prisoners having been pressured not to file complaints.

  • The new nationality code has eliminated most discrimination against women. Women will now be able to pass on nationality rights to their children and husbands on an equal basis to men.

  • A Ministry of Human Rights existed briefly in 1991 and 1992. Subsequently, a National Observatory on Human Rights (ONDH) was established. In March 2001, following years of criticism, the ONDH was dissolved by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and replaced with the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

  • The “Haut Conseil de l’Amazighité,” established in 1995, is tasked with supervising the teaching of the Berber language in schools and its use in mass media. Members are appointed by the president and report either to the president or the cabinet. Constitutional revision made the Berber language (known in Algeria as Amazigh) a national language in 2002.

Ratification of International Conventions

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) on September 12, 1989
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on September 12, 1989
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) on September 12, 1989
  • The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on February 14, 1972
  • The Convention of on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on May 22, 1996
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on April 16, 1993.