ALGIERS (AFP) — Algeria's parliament paved the way on Wednesday for veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to serve a third term by overwhelmingly approving plans to amend the constitution.
A combined total of 500 members of the upper and lower houses of parliament approved the amendments in a show of hands while only 21 voted against. There were eight abstentions.
While the vote covers a series of amendments, the most notable was for a scrapping of the law which currently limits the president to serving a maximum of two five-year terms.
The 71-year-old Bouteflika, who came to power in 1999, has not specifically announced his intention to run again, but he is now expected to throw his hat into the ring once more with elections due to take place in April next year.
The outcome of the vote was widely predicted with the president, who already enjoys a majority in parliament, having also secured pledges of support for the amendments from two smaller factions and a block of independents.
Most of those who opposed the measure came from the 19-strong secular Rally for Culture and Democracy party whose leader has denounced the move as tantamount to a constitutional coup.
As well as the amendment to article 74 of the constitution, which lays down the two-term limit, the vote also allows for the establishment of the post of prime minister to replace the current position of head of government.
Addressing the lawmakers ahead of the vote, the current head of government, Ahmed Ouyahia, said that the amendments would "enshrine the sovereign right of the people to freely choose their leaders."
"The aim is also to reorganise, specify and clarify the relations between the various executive branches without upsetting the fundamental balance of power," he added.
Ouyahia told a news conference that he would hand in his resignation to Bouteflika as soon as the new law is promulgated.
The prime minister is to be nominated by the president. The legislation provides for the appointment of several deputy prime ministers to assist the premier, as well as for increasing the number of women deputies in the national assembly.
Announcing the proposed amendments in a speech on October 29 Bouteflika made no mention of his seeking a third term. He said the aim was "to enrich the institutional system with the bases of stability, efficacity and continuity."
The revision would "allow the people to exercise their legitimate right to choose those who govern them and renew their confidence in them in all sovereignty," he added.
However the plans have been fiercely criticised by the opposition as tantamount to a "constitutional coup" in the former French colony, which gained independence in 1962.
In a press conference on Monday, Culture and Democracy party president Said Sadi said he would only be prepared to run in the forthcoming poll provided that independent observers were on hand to monitor its fairness.
"There is no chance of us participating without any kind of monitoring from the international community to make sure the vote is free and fair," he said.
It is the second time that Bouteflika has summoned parliament to alter the constitution. In 2002, lawmakers agreed to enshrine Berber as an official language alongside Arabic.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »