Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the independence veteran in power for 15 years, won re-election on Friday with more than 80 percent of a vote opponents dismissed as fraud to keep an ailing leader in power. Bouteflika had cast his vote sitting in a wheelchair on Thursday in what was a rare public appearance since suffering a stroke last year that raised questions about stability in the North African OPEC oil-exporting state.
The Algerian leader, 77, was already widely expected to win with the backing of the powerful ruling Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) party, which has dominated the political system since independence from France in 1962.
Preliminary official results showed Bouteflika had won with 81.53 percent of the vote, Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz told a news conference. His nearest rival, Ali Benflis, won 12.18 percent, and national turnout was 51.7 percent.
“The victory confirms Bouteflika can give more to Algerians in the next five years,” his former premier Abdelmalek Sellal told a press conference, with a framed portrait of Bouteflika placed on a stand next to him.
In downtown Algiers, groups of young supporters waved the president’s pictures, honked car horns and set off fireworks in celebrations of his victory.
But the aging leader’s health has left more questions about possible transition in Algeria, who would replace him should he fall ill in his fourth term, and how far the new government will go towards introducing political and economic reforms.
Stability is key for Western governments allied with Bouteflika against Islamist militants in the Maghreb and keen to secure Algerian gas shipments to Europe especially with Ukraine’s crisis threatening Russian supplies.
Bouteflika did not campaign himself, but loyalists praise him for guiding Algeria out of a 1990s war with Islamists that killed 200,000 people. That conflict left many Algerians wary of the turmoil that has swept neighbouring Tunisia, Egypt and Libya since their “Arab Spring” revolts in 2011.
Six opposition parties boycotted Thursday’s vote, saying it would not reform a system mostly closed to change since the FLN’s one-party rule in the early post-independence years.
Benflis, a former FLN chief and once a Bouteflika ally, called the vote a fraud and refused to accept the results. But he gave little evidence and the government dismissed his claims.
Bouteflika won 90 percent of the vote in 2009 and 85 percent in 2004, when his main rival then, Benflis, alleged fraud on an “industrial” scale.