Algerian Islamists: Widespread fraud in elections

By PAUL SCHEMM | May 11, 2012 | 8:06 AM EDT

Workers at a polling station empty ballots to begin the counting process, in the Bab el-Oued neighborhood, Algiers, Thursday, May 10, 2012. As parliamentary elections unfolded across Algeria on Thursday, voting was light for much of day in the capital, despite these contests being billed the freest in 20 years. (AP Photo/Paul Schemm).

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — The Islamist coalition expecting a strong showing in Algeria's elections is accusing authorities of "massive fraud."

Abderrazak Mukri, a spokesman for the Islamist alliance, said that the early results the alliance is seeing from the Interior Ministry differ dramatically from those seen by the alliance's observers.

He told reporters in Algiers that "there is a process of centralized fraud that is putting the country in danger."

He blamed President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and added, "we are not responsible for what could happen" as a result of the alleged fraud.

Final results are expected later Friday.

Algeria plunged into a decade of insurgency after elections 20 years ago that an Islamist party was slated to win.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Political parties released preliminary estimates for Algeria's parliamentary election on Friday indicating strong showings by the historic government party and an Islamist alliance.

Final results are expected later Friday, but based on tallies from individual polling stations across the country, the former ruling party, the National Liberation Front, known by its French initials FLN, will take over 100 seats, while the Islamist "Green Alliance" will get slightly less in the 462-seat assembly.

The people of Africa's largest country by area voted for a new parliament Thursday, in an election authorities billed as a response to the Arab Spring pro-democracy movement sweeping the region. The contests, featuring international observers, are believed to have been the freest in years in this oil-rich North African nation.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has spent the past several months urging Algerians to come out and vote, alternating promises of bold post-election reforms after elections with warnings that foreign powers might invade Algeria if there is a low turnout.

In contrast to the long lines and enthusiastic voters found in other Arab countries during elections brought on by the Arab Spring, most Algerians expressed little interest during the campaign, citing the assembly's lack of power and chronic election fraud.

Turnout out hovered at 30 percent in major cities, such as the capital, Algiers, but the government announced that the final rate of participation for inside and outside the county was 42.9 percent of the 21.6 million registered voters.

State media celebrated the figure as a major improvement over the 36 percent turnout in 2007.

A number of independent newspapers expressed skepticism over the government's final turnout figure, citing a lack of voter interest observed across the country by their reporters in the field. Between 5:30 p.m. local time and the close of polls at 8 p.m., turnout jumped from 35 to 44 percent inside the country, suggesting a last minute rush to vote.

In at least one polling station watched by The Associated Press, there were many voided ballots, where voters either submitted a damaged ballot in the voting envelope or none at all in apparent protest.

At the voting station in Algiers' lower-income Bab el-Oued neighborhood, 22 percent of the ballots were void, outnumbering those cast for the top vote-getter, the Islamist alliance.

The new parliament is expected to help rewrite the country's constitution and have a say in the organization of the Algeria's all-important presidential election in 2014.

For the FLN and the Green Alliance to take top slots in the new assembly will likely not cause much change in the country, as the two parties were allied in the previous government.

Despite its hydrocarbon wealth, there is widespread dissatisfaction in Algeria and frequent demonstrations and riots over unemployment, poor utilities and lack of housing.

Unemployment is only officially at 10 percent, but rises to at least 20 percent among university graduates. About 70 percent of the population is under 35.

The country also suffers sporadic attacks by the North Africa branch of al-Qaida in a mountainous region east of the capital. There were reports of a few isolated attacks, but no fatalities, on election day.