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Last Updated: Friday, 9 April, 2004, 18:54 GMT 19:54 UK
A victory for the status quo
By Heba Saleh
BBC, Algeria

Women queue to cast their ballot in Benthala, 30km (19 miles) south of Algiers
Many voters say they credit Mr Bouteflika with the return to security
The Algerian President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has been elected to a second term in a landslide victory that has stunned his rivals and left them crying foul.

According to official results announced by the interior minister, Mr Bouteflika received 83.49% of the votes cast in Thursday's election.

The man regarded as his main challenger, former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, was a distant runner-up with only 7.9% of the vote, while the Islamist candidate, Abdallah Djaballah, got just under 5%.

Mr Benflis called a press conference after the results were announced and said the election had been riddled with irregularities.

He was scathing about Mr Bouteflika's enormous victory, saying that only in an undemocratic country such as North Korea could such a landslide occur.

"We're going to take the necessary recourse with the constitutional council, but we do not have any illusions about how they will respond," said Mr Benflis.

One of his supporters, parliamentary deputy Abderrazzak Dahdouh, told the BBC: "We had thought that finally Algeria was emerging from the tunnel of despotism and dictatorship towards real democracy where the popular will is respected, but unfortunately it is not for now."


But the Algerian prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, brushed off the allegations of fraud.

"The Algerian people have decided and they are comfortable with their choice," he said.

A Bouteflika victory was always expected, but the size of the landslide is far beyond any of the predictions made before the election.

It is likely to provide further ammunition to critics of the president who accuse him of being an autocrat with no respect for democracy.

On polling day however, it was clear at voting stations in the capital at least that Mr Bouteflika was the most popular of the six candidates.

Many people said they credit him with the return of security to their country.

To them, that seems more important than the president's democratic credentials.

In 1999, shortly after the army brought Mr Bouteflika to office, he offered an amnesty to Islamic militants who surrendered to the state.

Thousands of rebels came down from the mountains and laid down their arms.

More of the same

The amnesty came at a time when the army had mostly broken the back of the Islamist insurgencies that had raged since 1992.

The rebellion had been sparked off by the army's intervention to block the victory in parliamentary elections of an Islamist party.

Mr Bouteflika's talk of national reconciliation appeals to Algerians, and so does the fact that he has transformed the country's international image.

Western countries welcomed the amnesty, and Mr Bouteflika has become an honoured visitor in key capitals such as Paris and Washington.

Many Algerians said on election day that in voting for Mr Bouteflika they were opting for continuity.

The country, some asserted, was not in the mood for new experiments with untested candidates, but critics of the president - and they are numerous in the press and political parties - insist that his election is a dark day for democracy.

For the time being, however, it seems that for most Algerians, that is not the main issue.

The BBC's Jim Fish
"Bouteflika has been credited with restoring stabilty to Algeria"

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