ALGIERS: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's party and its coalition ally have won a clear majority in parliamentary elections, the interior ministry said yesterday of a vote marred by a low turnout. Bouteflika's National Liberation Front (FLN) won 164 of the national assembly's 462 seats amid public disillusionment over a tepid economy and allegations of political corruption. The FLN, which has dominated the North African nation's politics since its 1962 independence from France, lost a quarter of the seats it won in 2012, according to preliminary results from Thursday's vote announced by Interior Minister Nourredine Bedoui.
But the FLN preserved its majority thanks to its ally, the Rally for National Democracy (RND), which won 97 seats, up from 70 in the last election. Two opposition Islamist lists won a total of 67 seats, seven more than five years ago when they recorded their worst ever results since Algeria first held multi-party elections in 1990. Abdelrrazak Makri, who heads the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP) which has links to the Muslim Brotherhood, complained to AFP of "election fraud". "I am disappointed with this election," said Makri, whose MSP ran a joint list with the Front for Change.
"For political observers, there are no surprises," analyst Rachid Tlemcani told AFP. "The ruling parties take the top two places and the Islamists are on the bottom step of the podium." The official results will be announced by the constitutional council after any appeals. The ministry said turnout was 38 percent, down from just over 43 percent in the 2012 election. Polling was marked by voter disillusionment over what many see as broken government promises on the economy and a political system tainted by graft. Officials spent weeks before the vote trying to drum up enthusiasm among electors, launching a campaign dubbed "Samaa sawtek" ("Let your voice be heard").
Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal even told an all-female audience in the eastern city of Setif to wake their husbands early, refuse them coffee and "drag" them to voting booths. "If they resist, hit them with a stick," he said. But many voters were disillusioned by a scandal involving candidates accused of paying to have their names added to party lists. Voters have also been put off by perceived stagnation in the political system and speculation over the health of the 80-year-old president, who has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke.
Bouteflika voted from a wheelchair at a polling booth in Algiers on Thursday in his first appearance before the international media since he was sworn in for a fourth term in April 2014. Many Algerians pay little attention to parliamentary elections in a opaque system dominated by the office of the president. "It's normal to vote for the president, but I don't see the interest in MPs," said Mourad, a 45-year-old engineer.
Algeria weathered the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings with massive spending on wages and subsidies that depleted government coffers. But a 2014 slump in crude oil prices forced the government to raise taxes and mothball many public projects. Today, in a country of 40 million where half the population is under 30, one young person in three is unemployed. Tlemcani said the chasm between the elite and young people had broadened in recent years. "People are disappointed by the previous legislature, which has done nothing," he said.
Meanwhile secular parties such as the Front of Socialist Forces (FFS), Algeria's oldest opposition group, issued a post-election statement criticizing the results. "The biggest winner of this election is absenteeism, followed by blank voting papers," the statement said, adding that the result will "make more fragile" a country already reeling from a plethora of problems. - AFP