ALGIERS, (Reuters) – Algeria’s ruling coalition won a reduced majority in parliamentary polls marked by poor turnout, keeping control of a body many in this north African country see as weak in the face of a powerful president.
Announcing the results on Friday, Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said the low participation and large number of spoiled ballots showed people felt political parties were not tackling everyday problems.
“It demonstrates that citizens expect politics to adapt more concretely and more convincingly to changes in Algerian society. The people have shown they are demanding,” he said.
The National Liberation Front (FLN) won 136 seats, the pro-business Rally for National Democracy (RND) won 61 seats, and the moderate Islamist Movement for Society (MSP) and Peace won 52 in Thursday’s poll.
The poll was the third legislative election since an Islamist revolt erupted after the cancellation of a national election in January 1992, which a now-outlawed Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win. Up to 200,000 people have been killed in political violence since then.
The fighting has reduced dramatically in recent years, but lingers on. A triple bombing claimed by al Qaeda killed 33 in Algiers on April 11. One policeman was killed when two small bombs exploded in the eastern city of Constantine on Wednesday.
Turnout in the voting to a new 389-seat lower house of parliament for the next five years was 35 percent, compared with 46 percent in the last polls in 2002, a record low since the first multi-party elections in 1990.
Of 6.6 million votes cast, 961,000 or 14.5 percent were spoiled. Zerhouni suggested he saw that as a protest vote. “The people wanted to vote anyway, but it shows also that they were not happy with the current situation,” he said.
Algeria has amassed $80 billion in foreign exchange reserves thanks to high oil and gas prices. The government plans to spend $140 billion to build schools, roads, hospitals and railways. But the non-energy sector, which provides most jobs, remains dominated by inefficient, over-manned, state-owned firms.
Social problems are still Algerians’ main concern, with unemployment among adults under 30 at a dismal 75 percent.
The presidency is the most powerful office of state in Algeria and Algerians say it is the incumbent, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, rather than parliament or any single political party who holds the key to a better future.
The coalition saw its total number of seats fall to 249 from the 284 it held in the outgoing assembly, all of it accounted for by a drop in the vote for the FLN, which led the 1954-62 guerrilla war for independence from France and governed during the 1962-1989 period of one-party rule.
The FLN is lead by Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, a moderate Islamist and close ally of Bouteflika.