ALGIERS: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika clinched a fourth term Friday, despite his poor health, winning a landslide victory in an election marred by low turnout and his rival alleging fraud.
The 77-year-old incumbent, who voted from a wheelchair Thursday, scooped 81.53 percent of the votes, compared with his main rival, Ali Benflis, who received 12.18 percent, Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz told a news conference.
“The people have chosen freely, in a climate that was transparent and neutral,” Belaiz insisted.
Benflis, who had already cited “serious irregularities” across the country on polling day, swiftly refused to recognize the re-election.
“Recognizing it would be complicit in fraud,” he told a news conference after the results were released, condemning what he called “an alliance between fraud, suspicious money and the bought media.”
Bouteflika’s victory had been widely expected, with his supporters celebrating in Algiers after polls closed late Thursday, and the press anticipating his re-election Friday before the results were announced.
It comes a year after Bouteflika suffered a stroke that confined him to hospital for three months and prevented him from campaigning for re-election in person.
The re-election of the veteran leader, who has ruled the strategically important nation since 1999, has provoked the anger of young Algerians desperate for change, amid widespread corruption, high youth unemployment and sectarian unrest.
Analysts warn of rising instability in Algeria over social problems and the government’s failure to address them.
“Bouteflika’s re-election will pave the way for a period of instability characterized by social discontent that will get worse,” political analyst Rachid Tlemcani said.
“The powers that be, embodied by Bouteflika, will no longer be able to buy the social peace, as they did during his three previous mandates, because of a probable fall in the country’s oil revenues.”
Discontent is most evident in the restive Kabylie region, where some 70 people were hurt in clashes Thursday between police and youths seeking to disrupt the vote.
In Raffour village, anti-regime sentiment was palpable, with masked youths armed with slings and chanting hostile slogans confronting police who fired tear gas.
Despite Bouteflika urging “all citizens to participate” and “not remain on the fringes of the nation,” voter turnout appeared to reflect the political apathy among the electorate.
Figures showed 51.7 percent of Algerians voted, making it the weakest participation rate of any presidential election in the past 20 years.
The turnout, which was lowest in the restive Kabylie region where only around one in four people voted, was sharply down from the official figure of 74.11 percent given in 2009.
A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable estimated the actual 2009 figure at not more than 30 percent.
Bouteflika’s decision to seek re-election, announced in February, had drawn derision and at times scathing criticism in the independent media.
However, he remains popular with many Algerians, especially for helping to end the devastating civil war of the 1990s, in which up to 200,000 people were killed.
“The Algerians have voted for security and stability,” said newspaper Al-Chourouk Friday, alluding to the theme of Bouteflika’s campaign.
But leading daily El Watan said the vote would be remembered as the “election of the absurd.”