U.S. hails Algerian election despite suspicions of fraud


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hailed Algeria’s elections, despite widespread suspicion over results that saw the regime tighten its grip on power, bucking the Arab Spring trend of change.

Official results from Thursday’s legislative election showed a higher-than-expected turnout of 42 percent, with the party that has ruled Algeria since independence 50 years ago winning comfortably and Islamists losing ground.

But Algeria’s main Islamist group in the polls -- the Green Algeria alliance -- charged the polls to elect a new national assembly were fraudulent.

Clinton nonetheless said Saturday “these elections -- and the high number of women elected -- are a welcome step in Algeria’s progress toward democratic reform,” in a statement issued by her spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“The United States looks forward to working together with the newly elected National Popular Assembly and to continuing to strengthen our ties with the government and the people of Algeria,” she added.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also praised the “successful and democratic elections... held in an organized, transparent and peaceful manner” and recorded no irregularities.

“First step on path top reform”

European Union observers also endorsed Algeria’s parliamentary election as a step towards reform, bucking the trend of the “Arab Spring” revolts.

Jose Ignacio Salafranca, head of the EU’s observer mission in Algeria, said there were shortcomings in some technical aspects of the election but there were “as many positive points as there were weak points”.

“This election constitutes a first step on the path to reform which should lead ... to a deepening of democracy and human rights,” he told a news conference.

He was delivering his 150-strong team’s preliminary assessment following President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime’s unprecedented decision to allow 500 foreign observers to monitor the polls.

Salafranca listed a number of shortcomings in the electoral process, in which 21.7 million Algerians were eligible to elect a new national assembly, but stopped short of challenging its overall credibility.

He deplored the fact that foreign observers were denied access to a nationwide electoral roll, a move he said “was not consistent with pledges of transparency.”

It was the first time Algeria had invited EU observers to monitor a vote, a move seen by diplomats as a sign it was committed to a more transparent election.

Algeria provides a fifth of Europe’s gas, has currency reserves of more than 180 billion euros ($233 billion) and was recently asked by the International Monetary Fund to help boost its lending capacity to struggling economies.

Far from reality

After a campaign marked by deep voter disaffection, many Algerians however argue that the interior ministry’s results were manipulated and far removed from reality.

One opposition party said its own observations suggested turnout was less than half the 42 percent announced by the interior ministry.

Algeria’s main Islamist group in the polls -- the Green Algeria alliance -- said the polls were fraudulent and warned that it would decide on what measures to take in a week.

The alliance’s leader Bouguerra Soltani, from the Algerian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a party that had hoped to emulate Islamist electoral gains in the region, said the vote “wasted a golden opportunity to achieve the Algerian Spring by the ballot box.”

He said the kind of Arab Spring of protests which last year unseated leaders elsewhere in the region “is only delayed” in Algeria.

The Algerian National Front, which won nine seats, announced Saturday it would challenge the results before the constitutional court over what party leader Moussa Touati called “blatant fraud”.

Protests that left five dead and 800 wounded broke out in January 2011 in Algeria, days after the Arab Spring’s founding uprising erupted in neighboring Tunisia.

But Bouteflika’s regime, backed by the powerful military, snuffed out the movement by initiating a reform package and dishing out pay rises.

Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front, which has been in power since independence from France in 1962, garnered 220 of the 462 seats up for grabs.

The National Rally for Democracy, a party close to the military and loyal to the regime, mustered 68 seats, while all seven Islamist parties only managed a combined 59.