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Algeria's ailing Bouteflika clinches fourth term amid fraud claims

AFP

Algeria’s 77-year-old president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was reelected on Friday for a fourth term despite his frail health, in a vote marred by low turnout and accusations of “massive fraud” from his main opposition challenger.

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Bouteflika won 81.53 per cent of the vote, Algerian electoral officials said on Friday. Official figures for voter turnout were 51.7 percent, down from the 75 percent turnout for Bouteflika's last win in 2009.

But the main opposition candidate, Ali Benflis, who officially garnered 12.18 per cent of the vote, refused to recognise Bouteflika’s win.

Benflis, a former Prime minister who emerged as the top opposition contender, dismissed the vote as a large-scale fraud: “There has been a violation of the will of the people … I completely reject these results."

When asked about the accusations of fraud, Interior Minister Taieb Belaiz detailed the election’s lengthy vote-counting procedures. “Anyone who can overcome all that, I salute their intelligence,” he said.

Ahmed Ouyahia, who heads the president's office, had said a contested election result could reopen "the gates of hell".

FRANCE 24’s special correspondent Catherine Norris Trent, reporting from Algiers, said of Benflis's claims, “Everybody is waiting to see what that will mean. Will that mean that he will bring people out to protest on the streets? There is a fear among the population here of instability, of demonstrations spilling over into violence and people don’t have an appetite for this ... Ali Benflis himself says that he will use peaceful political means, exploit all the legal channels he can”.

In a statement, French President François Hollande wished Bouteflika "full success" in his undertakings and Morocco's King Mohamed VI said his re-election reflects the "will of the people to forge ahead with development".

While the Algerian paper “Ach-Chouroq” wrote that “the Algerians have voted for security and stability," leading daily El Watan lamented "blackmail through fear", saying the vote would be remembered as the "election of the absurd".

Fit enough to govern?

Bouteflika is a veteran of the war of independence. He has difficulties speaking and standing since suffering a stroke in 2013 and has capitalised on support from the dominant National Front of Liberation (FLN) party to secure five more years at the helm of this gas- and oil-rich North African nation.

Loyalists praise him for helping bring the country out of the brutal decade-long civil war in the 1990s, and many Algerians are fearful of the sort of turmoil that has swept neighbouring Tunisia, Egypt and Libya following their "Arab Spring" revolts in 2011.

His third term was overshadowed by serious concerns about his health, culminating in April 2013 when he was rushed to hospital in France after suffering a “mini-stroke”.

Bouteflika remained under intensive care for three months but he apparently never fully recovered. Unable to campaign, he delegated that task to a team of loyalists who said that the ageing leader would implement constitutional changes to create a “broad democracy”.

In a rare public expression of the frustration felt by some Algerians towards the authoritarian political establishment, youth protest group Barakat (Enough) was founded just two months ago specifically to challenge Bouteflika's re-election bid.

Barakat and a coalition of five opposition parties, both Islamist and secular, had urged people to boycott the vote.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
 

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