ALGIERS, (Reuters) – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won 90.24 percent of the vote in a presidential election, officials said on Friday, extending his hold over Algeria, an oil producer with a lingering Islamist insurgency.
The result gives Bouteflika, 72, a third five-year term as president and leaves him in power until 2014. But some in the opposition alleged massive fraud and militants attacked a polling station on Thursday, underscoring the challenges Bouteflika still faces from sections of the population disillusioned by poverty and joblessness.
“The elections took place despite some incidents and attempts to disrupt them. This is a victory for the Algerian nation as it builds democracy,” Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said as he announced the results. “Even if one were to concede that there were some irregularities (during the vote), that would not have had a significant effect on the result,” Zerhouni said.
A close Bouteflika ally, Zerhouni was in charge of organising the election in Algeria, a vast North African nation that lies across the Mediterranean from the European Union.
Bouteflika’s nearest rival, Trotskyist candidate Louisa Hannoune, won 4.22 percent of the votes cast, he said.
The interior ministry had already announced turnout was just over 74 percent, higher than in the last presidential vote and an indication that many of Algeria’s 34 million people did not heed opposition calls for a boycott.
Victory for Bouteflika, a veteran of Algeria’s war for independence from France, was never in doubt. He faced lightweight rivals in the ballot and had a well-funded campaign that plastered the capital with his posters.
Algerian lawmakers cleared the way for Bouteflika to stand for a third term in Thursday’s election by abolishing term limits, a move critics said could allow him to serve as president for life.
The opposition Front of Socialist Forces, which boycotted the vote, accused the authorities of artificially inflating the turnout. “(There was) a real tsunami of massive fraud which reached an industrial scale,” the party said in a statement.
Analysts said the result demonstrated that Bouteflika, backed by the country’s huge military and security apparatus, remains the dominant political force in Algeria 10 years on from when he first took office.
“I was a little surprised by the high turnout in provinces that used to boycott (elections),” said Mohamed Lagab, professor of political science at Algiers University. “Anyway, the high turnout means that the supporters of the boycott have neither political nor social influence.”
The election result matters to the outside world because Algeria, an OPEC member, has the world’s 15th biggest oil reserves and accounts for 20 percent of the EU’s gas imports.
European governments fear turmoil in Algeria could unleash a flood of illegal migrants, while the United States says it needs the support of Bouteflika’s government in its global fight against al Qaeda.
Supporters say Bouteflika deserves credit for steering Africa’s second largest country back to stability after the government and Islamists fought a civil conflict that killed an estimated 150,000 people in the 1990s. But some sections of the population feel disenfranchised from the political process and analysts say that helps feed the low-level Islamist insurgency, now affiliated to al Qaeda, that is still rumbling on in Algeria.