ALGIERS (Reuters) - 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 uprisings elsewhere.
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 neighboring 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 May.
Analysts say Islamist voters are now divided after the authorities allowed many new parties to be created as part of political reforms.
“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 democratize 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.
Writing by Hamid Ould Ahmed and Andrew Hammond; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Greg Mahlich