Algiers: An alliance of Islamist parties expecting a strong showing in Algeria's elections accused authorities Friday of widespread fraud as initial figures pointed to them finishing third, with a spokesman suggesting unrest could ensue.
The people of this oil-rich North African nation voted for a new parliament Thursday, in an election authorities billed as a response to the pro-democracy movements sweeping the Arab region. Results are released Friday.
Preliminary figures based on initial vote tallies suggested the former ruling party, the National Liberation Front, known by its French initials FLN, would win 100 seats, and the Islamist "Green Alliance" would have nearly as many in the 462-seat assembly.
But figures released on private Algerian television showed the Islamists coming in a distant third, behind two pro-government parties. Those figures could not immediately be confirmed.
Abderrazak Mukri, a spokesman for the alliance, along with alliance member Taifour Farouk said that the results the parties are 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 fraud on a centralized level to change the results that is putting the country in danger."
He blamed President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika, and added, "we are not responsible for what could happen" as a result of the alleged fraud.
He did not elaborate on the veiled reference to possible unrest. Algeria plunged into a decade of insurgency after the army canceled elections 20 years ago an Islamist party was slated to win.
The country has also suffered 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.
Bouteflika has spent the past several months urging Algerians to come out and vote, alternating promises of bold postelection reforms after elections with warnings that foreign powers might invade Algeria if there were 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 hovered at 30 per cent 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 per cent of the 21.6 million registered voters.
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.
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.
The new parliament is expected to help rewrite the country's constitution and have a say in the organisation of Algeria's presidential election in 2014.
If the FLN and Green Alliance take top slots in the new assembly, that might not cause dramatic 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 per cent, but rises to at least 20 per cent among university graduates. About 70 per cent of the population is under 35.