Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika wins reelection
Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika secured a fourth five-year tenure Friday after amassing nearly 82% of votes, according to initial results announced by Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz.
The landslide victory in Thursday’s election was widely foreseen, despite opposition from Islamists and leftist groups, and his poor health. Bouteflika, 77, is recovering from a stroke and made few public appearances.
Ali Benflis, considered the strongest among five challengers to Bouteflika, came in second, with 12% of the vote, Belaiz said. Several opposition parties boycotted the process.
Shortly after polling on Thursday, Benflis told reporters the electoral process was marked by “fraud on a massive scale.” He also vowed to contest the results, which have not be finalized by the Constitutional Council.
Similar accusations arose in 2009, after Bouteflika was reelected with almost 90% of ballots.
Benflis, formerly prime minister in Bouteflika’s first administration, ran against Bouteflika in 2004, garnering about 6% of the vote. He retired from politics but returned to run this year.
The nascent opposition movement Barakat, or Enough, predicted that if Bouteflika was declared the winner, unrest was likely. Anti-Bouteflika activists and police already have clashed this week.
Belaiz said about 51% of eligible voters cast ballots, and described the polling as “free and fair” and undisturbed by what he termed “minor” incidents.
Having been in power since 1999, Bouteflika maintains staunch support in part because he presided over the end of the civil war that erupted in the early 1990s after the success of an Islamist party led the army to intervene in the election. The brutal conflict, involving the military and Islamic militants, left tens of thousands of Algerians dead.
Bouteflika supporters view him as capable of ensuring stability for the North African nation amid regional upheaval. His critics, however, believe he will leave power in the hands of oligarchs from the ruling National Liberation Front and army generals while doing little to resolve such problems as high youth unemployment and a housing shortage.
Bouteflika survived the so-called Arab Spring that began in December 2010 and resulted in several revolts in the region, including government changes in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen.
Shortly after the uprisings, Algeria -- a beneficiary of oil and gas resources -- took measures to appease the public, such as increasing subsides on food and implementing pay increases. A recent report by the International Monetary Fund showed that the unemployment rate in Algeria fell from 29.5% to 10% between 2000 and 2011.
The IMF, however, has noted that the ratio of youth unemployment to overall unemployment increased in the same period.
Young people were among the demographic groups that showed little interest in the election, according to observers.
Tarek, a reporter from Cairo, is a visiting journalist at The Times sponsored by the Daniel Pearl Foundation in partnership with the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships.
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