Ex-ruling party wins Algerian election marred by violence

Saturday, June 1, 2002

ALGIERS, Algeria -- The party that governed Algeria for nearly 30 years before the introduction of a multiparty system swept legislative elections that were marred by violence, a boycott and the lowest turnout ever.

The National Liberation Front, led by Prime Minister Ali Benflis, more than tripled its number of seats in the 389-seat parliament, moving from 64 to 199 seats, officials announced Friday.

But Thursday's election was boycotted by key opposition parties and marred by unrest among the country's sizable Berber minority. Voter turnout -- 46 percent -- was the lowest since Algeria gained independence from France in 1962.

The participation rate and election-day riots in the Berber heartland of Kabyle, east of Algiers, cast a pall over President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's efforts to bring stability and a further measure of democracy to Algeria, where real power lies with the military.

Despite cautious steps toward increased democracy, the military is still widely viewed as the main power broker in Algeria, which is struggling under a decade-old Islamic insurgency, an insurrection in the Berber region, corruption and a hobbled economy despite its oil and gas wealth.

'The return of trust'

Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni blamed the rioting, in part, for the low turnout and insisted on the election's success.

"This is significant proof of the willingness of the citizens to build a representative democracy," Zerhouni said. "The vote was proof of the return of trust in our institutions."

The FLN's main coalition partner, the Rally for National Democracy, came in second with 48 seats, down sharply from 155 in the last chamber.

The FLN first came to power after the revolutionary movement with the same name led Algeria's war for independence against France. It remained in power until a new 1989 constitution legalized other political parties.

The FLN fell out of favor as other forces -- led by Islamic fundamentalists -- gained ground. However, Benflis, who campaigned actively ahead of the vote, rejuvenated the party. Some newspapers have suggested he could become Bouteflika's successor.

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