Saturday, May 12, 2012

An Undemocratic Vote in Algeria

Algerian Election Results Draw Disbelief

By Adam Nossiter
The New York Times
May 11, 2012

ALGIERS — Algeria’s governing party strengthened its rule in parliamentary elections this week, officials announced Friday, dampening hopes that the vote might bolster the standing of opposition voices and eliciting audible gasps of skepticism from many of those who heard the results at a hilltop hotel here.

An alliance of moderate Islamist parties did poorly in the voting, a result sharply at odds both with analysts’ predictions and the experience of Algeria’s neighbors in the wake of last year’s Arab Spring. The country’s governing party, the National Liberation Front, known by its French initials, F.L.N., gained almost half the seats in Parliament, government officials said.

The Islamists rejected the results at a late-afternoon news conference. One of their leaders, Aboudjerra Soltani of the former Hamas party, called them “neither acceptable, logical or reasonable,” and said they would merely “delay the Algerian Spring.”

Disbelief was also evident in the statement of another established opposition party, the Socialist Forces Front, which said that “once more, the system has made use of all its ingenuity, not to find a solution to the crisis, but to consolidate its power.”

Over all, the results announced Friday by Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia, at a news conference packed with Algerian journalists, appeared likely to add to the apathy in Algeria toward a Parliament that has little real power and is considered by analysts a rubber stamp. Algerian politics is still dominated by men from the F.L.N., the party that led the country to independence from France 50 years ago.

Algeria remains an outlier in a region that was turned upside down by tumultuous political change over the past year. Small-scale protest and nibbling reform aside, citizen resignation appears to be united with relative government immobility here, as a government led by an ailing 75-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, shows no sign of ceding power.

Still, the Algerian government, anxious to avoid the Arab Spring from reaching here, was hoping for an elevated turnout as proof that Algerians backed its efforts to assuage discontent with spending from considerable oil revenues.

But the turnout figure announced by Mr. Kablia, 42 percent — ostensibly up from the previous election’s 35 percent — did not square with numerous reports of sparse turnout and empty polling places in much of the country. “Heavy abstention” and “total indifference” were headlines on Friday in some of the regional reports in a leading French-language newspaper, El Watan.

Out of a group of nine men, all employed, socializing together on the Friday holiday in a worn colonial neighborhood of downtown Algiers, only three said they had gone to the polls the day before. And one of the three, a doctor, said he had cast a blank ballot as a protest.

“Why would I vote, and for whom?” said Yosfi Adlene, 27, who works with containers at the city’s sprawling port. “I don’t even know who those people are,” he said, referring to the names on the ballot. “And besides, it would be useless. Nothing is going to change, anyway.”

His friends cited the interior minister’s declaration — a huge victory for the governing party — as evidence that they made the correct choice in abstaining.

A leading Algerian political analyst, Lahouari Addi of the Institut d’Études Politiques of Lyon, said turnout was probably closer to about 20 percent. Mr. Addi called the figure of 220 seats won by the governing party in the new Parliament “impossible, because the F.L.N. is rejected by the population. In a fair vote, the people would have voted for the Islamists.”

Mr. Addi suggested that for now, Mr. Bouteflika’s government appeared secure. “The government has lots of money, and it is distributing it,” he said. “This regime will last another few years.”

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