Parliamentary elections in Algeria have elicited wildly conflicting reactions from differing parties -- the state-controlled newspapers praised the “remarkable” turnout as a reflection of the country’s path to democratic reforms, while some opposition and Islamist parties have charged officials with voter fraud.
Prior to Thursday’s poll, turnout was expected to be very low, perhaps as poor a showing as the 35 percent figure from the last election in 2007. However, the interior minister in Algiers, Daho Ould Kablia, said that 42.9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
“If there’s a winner on this Algerian spring day, it’s undoubtedly the people,” said the pro-government El Moudjahid paper.
“In their millions, Algerians projected a good image of democracy, proving to the world that they are not disconnected from political life.”
Meanwhile, early reports suggest that the ruling National Liberation Front (FNL) party of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, will gain the most votes, followed by its coalition partner, the National Democratic Rally (RND), coming in second.
FNL has ruled Algeria since 1962 when the country gained independence from France.
The ‘Green Algeria’ alliance, a coalition of Islamist parties, including , the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), the Algerian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, is expected to finish third.
Members of Green Alliance charged the authorities with fraud for their distant third place finish.
Abderrazzak Mukri, a campaign manager for the alliance, told reporters in Algiers: There is a process of fraud on a centralized level to change the results that is putting the country in danger.
However, MSP, which was part of the outgoing administration, is derided by other Islamic militant groups as simply being another arm of FNL.
Algerian Islamist groups have legitimate gripes against the FLN.
Twenty years ago an apparent election victory by the Islamic Salvation Front was annulled by the FLN, leading to a deadly civil war that killed up to 200,000 people during the 1990s.
Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), a prominent opposition party, boycotted the 2012 election and also charged the government with fraud and rejected the official turnout figure.
“The turnout as recorded by the local commissions, infiltrated by the administration though they may be, did not exceed 18 percent,” RCD’s chairman, Said Sadi, said during a press conference.
Indeed, while the Algiers government invited 500 foreign observers to monitor the election, they were not permitted to access the national voters roll prior to the vote.
Ordinary Algerians have long contended that the FLN limits the participation of opposition parties and introduced some cosmetic reforms only in response to the threats posed by the Arab Spring revolution from last year, including the formation of 23 new political parties and increasing the number of women in government.
Moreover, they lament that parliament has no real power in dictating policy over Bouteflika.
The public is also concerned about substandard housing, poor infrastructure and high unemployment (20 percent by some estimates, and much higher among youth) and rising poverty, despite the country’s oil reserves.