Veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won a third term on Friday after results showed he garnered 90 per cent of votes in an Algerian vote marred by sporadic violence and boycotted by his main foes.
The 72-year-old, who changed the ex-French colony’s constitution to allow himself another five years at the helm, won with 90.24 per cent of votes cast in the oil-rich north African nation, Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni announced.
Turnout was 74.54 per cent, he added.
Louisa Hanoune, the only woman candidate and leader of the Trotskyite Workers’ Party (PT), trailed in a distant second with 4.22 per cent.
None of the other four candidates received more than 2.5 per cent of votes.
However, even before the results had been announced, opposition candidates said the election was marred by voter intimidation and disputed the turnout of almost 13 million given by state radio.
Thursday’s vote was held amid heavy security and Zerhouni announced that a policeman was killed and five other members of the security forces wounded in separate bids to disrupt the poll by radical armed Islamists.
The minister gave no details of the killing, but said three police and one soldier were wounded in bomb attacks, while another soldier was injured in a skirmish between an armed group and a military patrol.
The atmosphere appeared tense in the capital on voting day after the head of Al-Qaeda’s branch in North Africa called on Algerians to boycott the election in an audio message posted on an Islamist website on Monday.
Bouteflika, first elected in 1999, was to have stood down at the election, but he provoked outrage among opposition parties by proposing an amendment to the constitution which was rubber-stamped by parliament in November.
The secular Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) party, one of main opposition groupss led by Said Sadi, denounced what it called a “constitutional coup” and refused to take part in the “pathetic” election.
Despite the criticism of the vote, French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a prompt message to Bouteflika, offering him the “warmest and friendliest congratulations” and saying he was “committed to building a unique partnership between France and Algeria.”
“The head of state hopes that our two countries, enriched by their people and the proximity that unites them, will be able to build a bond that will serve as a model for the world,” said a presidential statement.
The French foreign ministry separately refused to comment on allegations that the turnout figures were inflated.
Algerian officials say that with a budget of $140 billion (107 billion euros) and reserves of 55 billion, the government can hold out for four years if the price of oil, the main export, remains at $50 a barrel.
But local businessmen pleaded for diversification.
“The reduction of imports means modernising local production by bringing companies up to standard in a 10-year plan,” president of the Forum of Company Chiefs, Reda Hamiani said.
Mohamed Bahloul, director of the Institute for the Development of Human Resources, argued that “the diversification of the economy to reduce dependency on fossil fuels” was Bouteflika’s main challenge.
Bouteflika also won the last election in 2004 by a landslide, with official results giving him 84.99 per cent of votes.
As well as Hanoune, Djahid Younsi of the moderate Islamist El-Islah party, Moussa Touati of the Algerian National Front (FNA), Ali Fawzi Rebaine of the AHD-54 nationalist party, and independent Mohamed Said appeared on the ballot.
Said meanwhile said the vote had been blighted by fraud while Rebaine denounced voter “intimidation” and other irregularities.
Despite criticism, the head of an observer mission from the Arab League gave the ballot a clean bill of health. Chadli Nefati said the organisation had been “beyond reproach” and voting had been calm.