Ex – Ruling Party Wins Algeria Vote

Ex – Ruling Party Wins Algeria Vote

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, The New York Times – 31/05/2002

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Prime Minister Ali Benflis’ party won an absolute majority in parliamentary elections boycotted by key opposition parties and overshadowed by ethnic Berber unrest and a massacre by Muslim militants, final results released Friday showed.
After a record low turnout in Thursday’s voting, the National Liberation Front won 199 of 389 seats, up from 65 in the outgoing National People’s Assembly, the Interior Ministry said. The Rally for National Democracy came in second with 48 seats, sharply down from 155 in the last chamber.
Two moderate Islamic parties — ISLAH and the Movement for Social Peace — won 43 seats and 38 seats, respectively. With a combined force of 81 seats, they will represent the second-strongest political force in the legislature.
Independent parties won a combined total of 29 seats, the Workers Party won 21 seats, and the Algerian National Front won eight. Three other parties garnered a single seat each.
Only 46 percent of the nation’s 17 million registered voters cast ballots, the lowest participation rate since independence in 1962. The last legislative election, in 1997, drew 65 percent of voters.
Widespread apathy was evident throughout the campaign, which came at a time of severe economic malaise and ongoing violence linked to Algeria’s brutal 10-year Islamic insurgency.
One civilian was killed and three injured during election-day riots in the ethnic Berber region of Kabyle, 60 miles east of the capital, Algiers. Some 108 security forces were injured, Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni. The turnout in Kabyle was less than 2 percent.
Zerhouni said the election was « significant proof of the willingness of the citizens to build a representative democracy, » he said. « The vote was proof of the return of trust in our institutions. »
The military-backed government said it hoped the balloting would bring a measure of democracy and calm to this violence-wracked North African country. But just hours before polls opened Thursday, Islamic militants killed 23 people in a village west of the capital, Algiers.
Said Sadi, leader of the pro-Berber Rally for Culture and Democracy, which boycotted the vote because of electoral fraud fears, said the results, showing parliament reconfigured but still in control of mainstream parties, proved the military-backed establishment had no intention of releasing its iron grip on power.
« After years and years of struggle for freedom of expression, social justice and human rights, the Algerian people have again been submitted to one-party rule, » he told The Associated Press. « Algeria is heading for a period of grave institutional stability. »
The Berbers claim to be the original inhabitants of North Africa and are said to make up about a third of the nation’s 30 million people. But their culture has long been oppressed.
Unrest erupted a year ago in Kabyle after a teen-ager was shot dead while in police custody. The wave of riots that followed left more than 60 people dead. Since then, protests have broadened to take in masses of citizens angered by rampant corruption, poverty, serious housing and water shortages, and soaring unemployment.
The campaign also came at a time of ongoing violence linked to a brutal Islamic insurgency that erupted after the 1992 legislative election was canceled to prevent Islamic radicals from winning.
Just prior to Thursday’s election, Islamic militants, some of whom have been linked to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaida network, intensified attacks. Some 100 soldiers have been killed in the past three months and some 560 people overall since the beginning of the year, according to figures published by the Algerian press.