Since independence in 1962, Algeria has had two constitutions. The first of these, approved by a constitutional referendum in 1963, established Algeria as a republic, committed to socialism and to the preservation of Algeria’s Arab and Islamic culture. It was suspended in 1965. In the following decade, Algeria was ruled without a constitution.
In 1976, the National Charter and a new constitution were drafted, debated, and eventually passed by national referenda. The new constitution reasserted the commitment to socialism. It also declared the National Liberation Front (FLN) as the sole legitimate political party in the country. The 1976 constitution was revised in 1986, 1989, and 1996. The 1986 revisions reaffirmed the political monopoly of the FLN but increased the role of the private sector and diminished the regime’s commitment to socialism. The revised constitution of 1989 ended that commitment and eliminated the party's monopoly.
The 1989 amendments allowed for multiple political parties to compete in elections. The revised constitution also included the principle of separation of state and religion. The previous provisions for a unicameral legislature remained. The role of the president was emphasized. The president, with the power to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and to maintain authority over military affairs, emerged as the dominant political force. References to the unique and historic character of the FLN and the military's role as the guardian of the revolution were eliminated.
Suspended in 1992, the Constitution was again revised in 1996. The revisions of 1996, approved by a referendum, provide for a strong executive branch headed by the president of the republic. Elected to a once-renewable five-year term by universal suffrage, the president appoints a prime minister who, in turn, appoints a cabinet. On 12 November 2008 both chambers of the Algerian parliament had approved, almost unanimously, 5 constitutional amendments suggested by President Boutafliqa. One of those amendments cancels or eliminates a paragraph in article 74 of the Algerian Constitution of 1996 which limits or restricts the President's right to run in presidential elections to 2 times .That cancellation has allowed president Boutafliqa to run for a third term in office.
Separation of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Powers
The new revisions also created a bicameral legislature and forbade institutions, according to Article 9, based on feudal, regionalist, and nepotistic practices, exploitative relationships and dependency links, and practices that are contrary to the Islamic ethics and to the values of the November Revolution of 1954. Similarly, Article 42 bans political parties established on religious, linguistic, racial, sex, corporatist, or regional bases and those that resort to violence.
Article 77 of the constitution defines the powers and prerogatives of the president of the republic. These include: commanding the armed forces, being responsible for national defense, deciding and conducting foreign policy, presiding over the Cabinet, appointing and dismissing Heads of Government, concluding and ratifying treaties, appointing most high officials including the military, the president of the Council of State, the Magistrates, the Governor of the Central Bank, high security officials, and the walis (provincial governors). The president also has the right of pardon, remission or commutation of punishment.
The constitution spells out the relations between the president and the legislative branch as well as between the prime minister and the legislative branch. For example, the president has the authority to rule by decree in special circumstances. The president subsequently must submit to the parliament for approval decrees issued while the parliament was not in session. The prime minister and the cabinet execute the programs adopted by the parliament and are responsible before both chambers. The government presents a general policy declaration to the National Council (Majlis Al-Oumma). The National People’s Assembly (Al-Majlis Al-Chaabi Al-Watani) may take votes of confidence in the government and censure it.
The constitution embraces an independent judiciary. It creates a High Court to regulate courts, a Council of State to regulate administrative jurisdictions, and a Tribunal of Conflicts to settle conflicts of competency between the High Court and the Council of State.
The constitution declares that the Algerian state takes its legitimacy from the people and that it is in the service of the people. The people exercise their power and their control of public authorities by means of referendum or through elected representatives. The parliament represents decentralization and a site of popular participation in politics and in the management of public affairs.
Articles 36 through 68 give an extensive list of citizens’ rights and duties before the state. Freedoms of creed, opinion, expression, and association, the right to privacy, warranted searches and seizures, presumption of innocence until proven guilty, due process and just compensation for miscarriage of justice, the right to create political parties, to vote and be elected, the right to private property, to education, work, unionization, and strike within the limits of the law, are guaranteed constitutionally. Respects for the law and for the symbols of the revolution are expected from citizens. The Algerian parliament unanimously approved on March 14, 2005 a decree that amends the current citizenship law to grant Algerian citizens the right to dual citizenship.
A Constitutional Council supervises over the constitutionality of laws, referendum procedures, presidential and general elections. It is composed of nine members, three are appointed by the president. A High Islamic Council and a High Security Council are also created as consultative bodies in the areas of religious and security affairs respectively.
Constitutional Amendments and Procedures
The president of the republic may initiate a constitutional revision. After its adoption by both chambers of the parliament, it is submitted to referendum within 50 days. Alternatively, the Constitutional Council may approve the revision and three-fourths of the two parliamentary chambers approve it before the president promulgates the change. Revisions may not conflict with the republican form of the Algerian state, multiparty system, state religion, official language, fundamental rights and liberties, and the territorial integrity of the nation.
Algeria is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).