- The Washington Times - Friday, April 9, 2004

ALGIERS — President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was re-elected in a landslide, the Interior Ministry said yesterday, but his challenger cried foul after winning only 8 percent of the vote and promised to appeal.

Mr. Bouteflika, 67, who campaigned on a record of restoring calm to a nation wracked by more than a decade of Islamic-inspired bloodshed, won a second term Thursday with 83 percent of the vote, said Interior Minister Nourredine Zerhouni.

Former Prime Minister Ali Benflis won only 8 percent of the vote and said he would file an appeal with the Constitutional Council, which validates results.

Denouncing the elections as a “parody,” Mr. Benflis charged that there were irregularities “in thousands of polling stations across the country.”

Sensing victory, Mr. Bouteflika supporters celebrated in the streets of Algiers after polls closed Thursday night. Rival candidates immediately claimed that the Bouteflika camp had cheated.

But Mr. Zerhouni insisted that the election — which he compared to a “national celebration” — was clean, and said candidates had representatives at all polling stations to ensure a free and fair vote. In addition, at least 120 election observers were brought in from overseas to monitor the balloting.

“I must point out there were observers from all campaigns around the country. The votes were placed under full control of those representatives,” the minister said at a press conference in the Algerian capital.

At least one international election monitor said the election appeared fair.

“I know there are criticisms … but in my view this was one of the best conducted elections, not just in Algeria, but in Africa and much of the Arab world,” said Bruce George of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Among the accusations was the expulsion of party observers from some polling stations.

Islamic candidate Abdallah Djeballah won slightly less than 5 percent.

The turnout was 59 percent of Algeria’s 18 million registered voters.

Mr. Bouteflika won the 1999 balloting after his six rivals pulled out the night before the election to protest what they claimed would be massive fraud.

The North African nation has lurched toward democracy since 1989, when single-party rule was abolished. In an unprecedented move, the army vowed to remain neutral in the race. For the first time, soldiers voted at regular polling stations, not military installations.

Algeria stretches from the Mediterranean to the Sahara Desert. Its vast oil and gas reserves give the country foreign clout and make its stability a regional and international imperative. It has battled an Islamic insurgency that was triggered in 1992 when the army canceled legislative elections to prevent an Islamic fundamentalist party from winning.

Since then, an estimated 120,000 have died in the conflict. But violence has steadily abated since hitting its peak in the 1990s, and backers of Mr. Bouteflika give him the credit. Mr. Bouteflika offered an amnesty in 2000 to rebels not guilty of violent crimes, and about 6,000 accepted.

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