By Beatrice Khadige
By Beatrice Khadige
ALGIERS, May 11, 2012 (AFP)
The Algerian regime hailed a “remarkable” turnout as polling officials tallied votes Friday for legislative elections expected to hand a bigger share of power to moderate Islamists.
Turnout had been expected to be very low after a campaign that produced no new faces and failed to draw crowds, but the interior minister announced a relatively high figure of 42.9 percent after polling closed Thursday.
The breakdown of the next national assembly was due later Friday but early estimates by the parties suggested that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front would retain the top spot, followed by its Islamist allies.
Speaking on the north African country’s only channel in front of a framed picture of Bouteflika, Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia hailed a “remarkable” turnout for polls that he said confirmed Algeria’s democratic
The Green Algeria alliance had hoped to cash in on the wave of Islamist electoral triumphs that followed Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.
“The estimates I had this morning … showed the FLN in the lead and the Green Alliance in second position,” said Abderrahmane Saidi, an official from the alliance’s main party, the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP).
The MSP, the Algerian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, was already the third largest parliamentary group and part of the outgoing government.
Many radical Islamists, including supporters of the banned Islamic Salvation Front, consider the MSP to be nothing more than a branch of the regime.
The National Rally for Democracy of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia is expected to take third position.
Pro-government newspapers said in special Friday editions that voters had expressed confidence in the political system by taking part in the election, which comes after a reform package initiated in the wake of the Arab Spring.
“If there’s a winner on this Algerian spring day, it’s undoubtedly the people,” El Moudjahid wrote in a front-page editorial.
“In their millions, Algerians projected a good image of democracy, proving to the world that they are not disconnected from political life,” the daily said.
Horizons, another pro-government newspaper, said the vote showed an “appeased and reconciled Algeria … diametrically opposed to those who wreak chaos and support interference.”
During the campaign, Ouyahia said the so-called Arab Spring was a “plague” that had resulted in “the colonisation of Iraq, the destruction of Libya, the partition of Sudan and the weakening of Egypt.”
Many Algerians and observers had predicted that ever deeper mistrust, especially among the country’s majority of young people, could lead to an even lower turnout than the historical low of 35 percent recorded in 2007.
Opposition parties and some observers had warned before the vote that, whatever the result announced by the regime, the “real turnout” was unlikely to exceed 20 percent.
Some 500 foreign observers brought in by Bouteflika to monitor the vote reported only minor hiccups but they were denied access to the national voters roll before the vote.
Many Algerians had complained that voting would be useless given that all the major parties contesting the polls were already in a governing coalition together.
The majority of the 41 other lists in the electoral fray were small and unknown groups that critics argue the regime authorised to create an illusion of democratic choice.
Bouteflika was a minister in Algeria’s first independent government in 1962 and, at 75, he is keen to burnish his legacy with ongoing large-scale projects such as the world’s third largest mosque.
Analysts say that while the legislative election can only largely maintain the status quo, it also is acting as a kind of primary for the 2014 presidential poll, which Bouteflika not expected to contest.