Algiers – Algeria’s Islamists were reeling on Saturday from a stinging setback in legislative polls which saw the ruling party come out on top, resisting the Arab Spring’s tide of democratic change.
The regime argued that the results showed Algerians’ desire for stability, at a time when regime change was bringing chaos to other countries, and outright rejection of Islamism, whose rise 20 years ago led to civil war.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front (FLN) won 220 out of 462 seats up for grabs in Thursday’s legislative elections, improving on its share in the outgoing national assembly.
The seven Islamist parties contesting the polls could only manage a combined 59 seats, a major setback after their predictions of victory during the campaign.
The National Rally for Democracy (RND) of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, a nationalist party close to the military and loyal to Bouteflika, came second with 68 seats, compared to 62 in the outgoing house.
While the results largely maintain the status quo, one notable change was the number of elected women, which rose to 145 from seven in the outgoing assembly following the introduction of quotas.
Algeria’s outgoing governing coalition included the FLN, the RND and the largest of the legal Islamist parties, the Movement of Society for Peace.
Friday’s provisional results, which have yet to be confirmed by the constitutional council, mean the FLN and the RND could form a majority without the Islamists.
“We’d already experienced Islamism, nobody has forgotten this in Algeria… Voters were looking for security, stability,” political analyst Nourredine Hakiki said.
Green Algeria, a three-party Islamist alliance, garnered a paltry 48 seats and charged widespread fraud.
“There has been large-scale manipulation of the real results announced in the regions, an irrational exaggeration of these results to favour the administration parties,” it said in a statement.
It warned it would take measures in protest.
In the wake of the popular revolts that became known as the Arab Spring, moderate Islamist parties recorded electoral victories in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco.
Ouyahia argued that the Arab Spring was hardly an attractive scenario, calling it a “plague” that had resulted in “the colonisation of Iraq, the destruction of Libya, the partition of Sudan and the weakening of Egypt”.
Turnout had been expected to be low after a campaign that produced no new faces and failed to draw crowds.
But Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia announced a “remarkable” rate of 42.36% which he said confirmed Algeria’s democratic credentials.
Many Algerians and observers had predicted that ever deeper mistrust, especially among the country’s majority of young people, could lead to an even worse turnout than the historical low of 35% recorded in 2007.
The opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy, which chose to boycott this election, claimed the announced turnout was fraudulent and that the real figure “did not exceed 18 percent.”
The Socialist Forces Front, Algeria’s oldest opposition party, garnered only 21 seats and also cried foul, charged the regime has used the election “only to consolidate its power”.
Some 500 foreign observers brought in by Bouteflika to monitor the vote reported only minor hiccups but they were denied access to the national electoral roll, which grew by four million voters since 2007.
Dozens of complaints were filed to the electoral commission however and observers were expected to release more detailed assessments on Saturday and Sunday.