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FLN Wins Algerian Election - 2002-05-31

Final results are in and the pro-government National Liberation Front party has won an absolute majority in Algeria's legislative election.

The veteran National Liberation Front or FLN party, staged a stunning rebound in Thursday's parliamentary vote, capturing 199 of the 389 parliamentary seats. According to official results, announced Friday by Algerian Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni, the other pro-government party, the National Democratic Rally, came second, with 48 seats.

Analysts say the FLN's good showing in the parliamentary vote - triple its 1997 results - reflects strong support for Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his mandate for political change. Mr. Bouteflika has no formal party, but Prime Minister Ali Benflis belongs to the FLN.

But as expected, the rate of voter participation was low - about 46 percent officially - although observers suggest the true figure was much lower. Many Algerians expressed little interest in elections for a parliament that has little political clout.

Minister Zerhouni said a number of factors were responsible for the low turnout, including many new and relatively unknown candidates, as well as new laws that prevent proxy voting. But the interior minister was especially critical of ethnic-Berber activists in Algeria's eastern Kabylia region, who called on citizens to boycott the elections.

Mr. Zerhouni said violence in the Kabylia region had prevented many citizens from voting. He said one person had been killed Friday and three civilians injured as a result. More than 100 security personnel were also injured, he said, during clashes with Berber activists.

Nonetheless, the interior minister praised the elections as a critical step toward peaceful democratic change in Algeria following the brutal civil war of the 1990s.

Mr. Zerhouni said the vote indicated Algerians were again confident in the political process, and that the system was responsive to people's needs.

There were no formal foreign observers during the vote. But European Union representatives and some foreign diplomats informally spot-checked some polling stations. One diplomat said he had not seen any irregularities, but that turnout was low.

But some parties argue the vote was not free and fair. Slimane Chenine, spokesman for the Islamist Hamas party, told VOA that massive fraud had taken place in some areas.

According to Mr. Chenine, some Hamas supporters said when they went to vote they were already listed as having voted. In other cases, he said, Hamas ballots were unavailable, or the party's candidates were not on voting lists.

One Western observer here said some smaller parties had also expressed concern about voting irregularities, particularly in the military vote and in remote areas of the country.

The interior minister, however, maintained that the vote was fair and transparent.