Sun, Apr 20, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Algeria’s Bouteflika wins new term in polemic poll

ALGERIAN WINTER:Bouteflika extended his 15-year rule with a crushing victory that experts predict will usher in an era of unrest as anger toward his administration rises


Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika clinched a fourth term on Friday, despite his poor health, winning a landslide victory in an election marred by low turnout and his rival alleging fraud.

The 77-year-old incumbent, who voted from a wheelchair on Thursday, scooped 81.53 percent of the votes, while his main rival, former Algerian prime minister Ali Benflis, received 12.18 percent, Algerian Minister of the Interior Tayeb Belaiz told a news conference.

“The people have chosen freely, in a climate that was transparent and neutral,” Belaiz said.

Benflis, who had already cited “serious irregularities” across the country on polling day, swiftly refused to recognize Bouteflika’s re-election.

“Recognizing it would be [being] complicit in fraud,” he told a news conference, condemning what he called “an alliance between fraud, suspicious money and the bought media.”

Bouteflika’s victory had been widely expected. His supporters celebrated in Algiers after polls closed late on Thursday and Friday’s papers anticipated his re-election before the results were announced.

The vote comes a year after Bouteflika suffered a stroke that confined him to hospital for three months and prevented him from campaigning in person.

French President Francois Hollande wished Bouteflika “full success” in his undertakings, while Moroccan King Mohamed VI said his re-election reflects the “will of the people to forge ahead with development.”

However, the re-election of the man who has ruled the energy-rich North African nation since 1999 has provoked the anger of young Algerians desperate for change amid the widespread corruption, high youth unemployment and sectarian unrest plaguing the country.

It remains to be seen if Bouteflika will make good on his campaign promise of “a broad democracy” in which “every citizen will take part in the country’s development.”

Analysts warn of rising instability in Algeria over social problems and the government’s failure to address them.

“Bouteflika’s re-election will pave the way for a period of instability characterized by social discontent that will get worse,” political analyst Rachid Tlemcani said. “The powers that be, embodied by Bouteflika, will no longer be able to buy the social peace, as they did during his three previous mandates, because of a probable fall in the country’s oil revenues.”

Discontent is most evident in the Kabylie region, where about 70 people were hurt in clashes on Thursday between police and youths seeking to disrupt the vote.

In Raffour Village, masked youths armed with slings and chanting hostile slogans confronted police who fired tear gas.

More than 260,000 police officers, some armed with assault rifles, were deployed to maintain security during polling.

Despite Bouteflika urging “all citizens to participate” and “not remain on the fringes of the nation,” voter turnout appeared to reflect the political apathy among the electorate.

Figures showed that 51.7 percent of Algerians voted, making it the weakest participation rate of any presidential election in the past 20 years.

The turnout, which was lowest in Kabylie — where only about one in four people voted — was sharply down from the official figure of 74.11 percent given in 2009. A leaked US diplomatic cable estimated the actual 2009 figure at not more than 30 percent.

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