ALGIERS, ALGERIA – The ballots have been counted, the vote certified, and the results of Algeria’s presidential election are in: sitting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will come back for a third time after winning in a landslide that has observers here rolling their eyes.
Polling stations in the capital were largely empty on Thursday, and most Algerians appeared listlessly resigned to a third term for their president, who has held office since 1999.
But the Ministry of the Interior announced Friday that nearly 75 percent of voters had gone to the polls, handing the presidency back to Bouteflika by an eye-popping 90.24 percent.
His five challengers split the remainder among themselves, with Louisa Hanoun, the candidate of the Communist Worker’s Party, taking second place with 604,258 votes and 4.22 percent of the total.
Rate of voter turnout in some provinces, the government announced, were also startlingly high: more than 97 percent of the mountainous eastern province of Khenshala is said to have gone to the polls, as is about 95 percent of the province of Ain Defla and nearly 65 percent of Algiers, the capital.
“This election is a demonstration of the level of free speech in Algeria as well as a promotion of civic attitudes by the rest of the candidates, who respected the rules of the campaign as dictated by the law,” Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said at a press conference.
“Algeria is determined to build a democracy and we are determined to prove to the rest of the world that we are going to reach a democratic state,” he said.
Despite those commitments, observers and political opponents denounce the results as a fraud, albeit one they had seen coming.
“This is a massive sham,” says Moussa Touati, candidate for the right-wing Algerian National Front and third place finisher. Election workers from his party stationed at polling places were barred from participating in vote counting, he says.
Ali Yahya Abdelnour, Chairman of the Algerian League for Human Rights, took a similarly dim view. “These figures are exaggerated, and cannot give any legitimacy to Bouteflika,” he said.
While some analysts had also predicted Ms. Hanoun’s second-place finish, it was not for her electoral prowess.
Kamal Zait, managing editor of the Arabic-language independent newspaper Al Khabar, says that she was used as a prop throughout the campaign to demonstrate that the country is open-minded and socially advanced.
“The administration used her because it wanted to show that women are a subject that is en vogue in Algeria, and that we are a modern country,” he says. “But Algerian society does not vote for a woman or a Trotskyite like Louisa Hanoun. There is no constituency for that here.”