- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

ALGIERS — Supporters of Algeria’s president lost seats but kept a large majority in parliament, according to yesterday’s results from elections marked by record-low turnout despite appeals for voters to cast a ballot against terrorism.

Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said the low participation rate in Thursday’s election — 35.7 percent of 18.7 million eligible voters — showed that parties were out of touch with the people.

“It is perhaps the proof that the Algerian citizen expects the political class to adapt itself more concretely and more convincingly to the evolutions and transformations within Algerian society during the last few years,” he said.

Joblessness, housing shortages and other social ills plague this North African nation of 33 million, despite its oil and natural gas wealth. The country has focused for 15 years on defeating an Islamic insurgency.

Just five weeks before the election, a double suicide bombing killed 30.

Al Qaeda in North Africa, a group formed from the remnants of Algeria’s Islamic insurgency, claimed responsibility for the blast. A bombing in the eastern city of Constantine killed a police officer Wednesday, a day before the vote.

Government officials and parties had asked citizens to vote to protest violence by Islamic extremists, but the turnout was the lowest in a general election since Algeria did away with its single-party state in 1989.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was expected to revamp the government to reflect the election outcome. However, no date was given for any changes.

The three-party “presidential alliance” backing Mr. Bouteflika’s program of national reconciliation and economic reconstruction won 249 of the 389 seats in the lower house — 35 short of its previous count.

The National Liberation Front, the party that has ruled Algeria for nearly three decades, lost 67 seats but remained dominant with 136 seats.

The two other parties in the alliance, the National Democratic Rally and the Movement for Society and Peace, a moderate Islamic party, both gained seats but not enough to make up for the losses.

Many blamed weak parties and a rubber-stamp parliament combined with the strong presidency for the voter apathy.

Djamel Saidi, a 57-year-old shipping employee in the working-class Algiers neighborhood of Bab el-Oued, said he had voted for Mr. Bouteflika, 70, in the 2004 presidential election but had lost hope that lawmakers could resolve the country’s problems.

Polling stations in Bab el-Oued were nearly deserted during the voting Thursday, a far cry from the activity during Algeria’s first multiparty elections for parliament in 1991.

At that time, the Bab el-Oued neighborhood, a former stronghold of the now-banned Islamic Salvation Front, was bubbling with expectations.

The army cut the voting short, aborting the elections when it became clear the Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win. The action triggered an Islamic insurgency and a spiral of violence that has killed an estimated 200,000 people.

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