Algerian Islamists: Widespread fraud in elections

May 11, 2012 - 10:16 AM
Algeria Elections

Workers at a polling station empty ballots to begin the counting process, in the Bab el-Oued neighborhood, Algiers, Thursday, May 10, 2012. As parliamentary elections unfolded across Algeria on Thursday, voting was light for much of day in the capital, despite these contests being billed the freest in 20 years. (AP Photo/Paul Schemm).

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — An alliance of Islamist parties expecting a strong showing in Algeria's elections accused authorities Friday of widespread fraud as initial figures pointed to them finishing third, with a spokesman suggesting unrest could ensue.

The people of this oil-rich North African nation voted for a new parliament Thursday, in an election authorities billed as a response to the pro-democracy movements sweeping the Arab region. Results are released Friday.

Preliminary figures from Thursday night based on initial vote tallies gathered by the "Green Alliance" of three Islamist parties, put it just behind the former ruling party, the National Liberation Front, known by its French initials FLN in the 462-seat assembly.

But figures released Friday on private Algerian satellite television showed the Islamists coming in a distant third, behind FLN and its sister government party, the National Democratic Rally. Those figures could not immediately be confirmed.

Abderrazzak Mukri, a campaign manager for the alliance, said that the results the parties are seeing from the Interior Ministry differ dramatically from those gathered by the alliance's observers.

He told reporters in Algiers that "there is a process of fraud on a centralized level to change the results that is putting the country in danger."

He blamed President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and added, "we are not responsible for what could happen" as a result of the alleged fraud.

He did not elaborate on the veiled reference to possible unrest. Algeria plunged into a decade of insurgency after the army canceled elections 20 years ago an Islamist party was slated to win.

In a subsequent statement, the alliance said if the fraud was official they would "take all the necessary measures," once again without elaborating.

The statement said the effort to boost the results of the FLN and its fellow government party, the National Democratic Rally, "contradicted the spirt of political reform and the hope and trust of the Algerian people."

Even 10 years after the civil war ended, the country still suffers from attacks by the North Africa branch of al-Qaida in a mountainous region east of the capital. There were reports of a few isolated attacks during elections, but no fatalities, on election day.

Bouteflika has spent the past several months urging Algerians to come out and vote, alternating promises of bold postelection reforms after elections with warnings that foreign powers might invade Algeria if there were a low turnout.

In contrast to the long lines and enthusiastic voters found in other Arab countries during elections brought on by the Arab Spring, most Algerians expressed little interest during the campaign, citing the assembly's lack of power and chronic election fraud.

This election, however, was supposed to be the freest and fairest in 20 years and the government even invited in 500 international observers.

Turnout hovered at 30 percent in major cities, such as the capital, Algiers, but the government announced that the final rate of participation for inside and outside the county was 42.9 percent of the 21.6 million registered voters.

A number of independent newspapers expressed skepticism over the government's final turnout figure, citing a lack of voter interest observed across the country by their reporters in the field.

In at least one polling station watched by The Associated Press, there were more voided ballots, where voters either submitted a damaged ballot in the voting envelope or none at all, than votes for any other single party, suggesting widespread dissatisfaction with the choices.

The new parliament is expected to help rewrite the country's constitution and have a say in the organization of Algeria's presidential election in 2014.

Despite its hydrocarbon wealth, there is widespread dissatisfaction in Algeria and frequent demonstrations and riots over unemployment, poor utilities and lack of housing.

Unemployment is only officially at 10 percent, but rises to at least 20 percent among university graduates. About 70 percent of the population is under 35.