* Algeria says turnout shows system engaging Algerians
* Government fears unrest but remains reticent on reforms
By Hamid Ould Ahmed and Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS, Nov 30 Algeria on Friday declared a 44
percent turnout in municipal elections where the ruling party
was victorious, keen to show people remain engaged with the
political process despite a lack of the reforms achieved in Arab
Memories of a vicious 1990s civil war between Islamists and
the state that killed around 200,000 people have, analysts say,
deterred Algerians from embarking on the mass protests that have
swept away rulers in neighbouring Tunisia and Libya, as well as
in Egypt and Yemen.
But having avoided major unrest the energy-rich North
African country of 37 million people still wants to strengthen
the credibility of its political system and had aimed for a
40-45 turnout in Thursday's communal elections.
Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia, reading the results of
the vote at a news conference, said the outcome was in line with
expectations. "The results were foreseeable," he said.
Kablia said the National Liberation Front (FLN), ruling
since independence from France in 1962, was the biggest winner,
followed by the National Rally for Democracy (RND), a government
coalition partner led by former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia.
The Green Algeria Alliance, a grouping of Islamist parties,
were left far behind, a poor result for official Islamist groups
which was similar to their showing in legislative elections last
Analysts say Islamist voters are now divided after the
authorities allowed many new parties to be created as part of
"The increased number of parties with Islamist orientation
have weakened their share on the political scene,"said Mouloudi
Mohamed, an analyst on Islamic issues.
"A lot of Islamists have joined the newly-created moderate
Islamist TAJ," he said, referring to a party led by Amar Ghoul,
a former senior member of the Green Algeria Alliance.
Ghoul, serving currently as public works minister, did not
take part in the municipal election.
Despite Kablia's remarks, many Algerians did not seem
enthused about the vote for members of more than 1,500 councils,
including their mayors, believing significant change could only
come through the next presidential election, due in 2014.
Real local power lies not with the elected municipal
councils but with appointed provincial officials, despite
government promises to democratise the system.
Algeria, an OPEC member that supplies about a fifth of
Europe's imported gas and an important U.S. ally in the fight
against al Qaeda, has used its energy revenues to lift living
standards with increased social spending.
The country saw some rioting last year over high prices,
unemployment and a lack of housing units. But President
Abdelaziz Bouteflika responded with a pay rise for public sector
employees, free loans for young entrepreneurs and continued
subsidies on basic foodstuffs.
Bouteflika, 75, is serving his third five-year term and is
not expected to run in the 2014 presidential election.