Algeria's government says turnout in Thursday's parliamentary election was 42.9 per cent in a vote widely viewed as a test of the ruling elite’s legitimacy.
The figure, announced on Thursday evening by Daho Ould Kablia, the interior minister, marked an improvement on turnout at the last elections in 2007 and was claimed by some an endorsement for recent political reforms introduced in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Speaking on the North African country's only channel in front of a framed picture of Bouteflika, Kablia declared that the turnout was "remarkable" and that the results confirmed Algeria's democratic credentials.
While many opposition activists said the official figure had probably been inflated, calls for boycotts appeared not to have achieved the massive abstention some were predicting.
Still, the fact that more than half of eligible voters did not go to the polls was no surprise in a climate of mistrust and cynicism against the parliamentary system, which many Algerians view as nothing more than a veneer for the military government.
"For now, the 'Arab Spring' chapter is closed, and Algeria is settling into a new era of uncertainty."
- Editorial in Le Matin newspaper
Kablia is expected to announce the results at 3:00 pm (14:00 GMT) on Friday, but there were already allegations of "widespread fraud" ahead of the official announcement.
The ruling National Liberation Front has dominated the country's political life since the country won independence from France 50 years ago, and is expected to retain some kind of majority.
These elections were expected to make more room in parliament for a coalition of Islamist parties, competing under the umbrella of the Green Alliance, as well as for the secular opposition Socialist Forces Front.
The early results were significantly different from the interior minister were significantly different from those collected by its own observers, the Islamist coalition said on Friday afternoon, ahead of the offical announcement.
"It seems there's been a manipulation of the results," Kamel Mida, press officer for the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), a party running as part of the Green Alliance, said by phone.
Statistics collected by the Green Alliance's own observers gave the coalition 101 out of 462 seats, he said.
The authorities had set up special voting booths for security forces, where 100 per cent of votes appear to have been given to the ruling FLN.
"We will wait and see what results they announce, and then we will meet with the other opposition parties to decide how we will react," Mida said.
Unlike the Islamist parties that have come to power in Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, the Green Alliance has worked closely with the government.
The FFS said in a statement on Friday that it recognised "the motivations for the abstention in peaceful protest, brought about by years of fraud, of predation and authoritarian contempt for freedoms and citizens' rights".
"A sharp divide has been drawn between activists engaged in peaceful protest in favour of democratic change, and those who prefer dirty money and depolitisation," Ali Laskri, the lefist opposition party's general secretary, said in a statement.
By allowing more room for some opposition parties, critics of the regime say that the military is simply managing the process so as to maintain its grip on power.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika began the reforms with a speech in April 2011.
After the legislative election, the next step in this reform process would most likely be to name a prime minister to replace Ahmad Ouyahia.
In the lead-up to Thursday's vote, the government had earlier said a turnout of 45 per cent would be a "success" and Bouteflika made a plea to young Algerians to at least cast blank votes rather than abstaining.
The official turnout appeared sufficiently high to suggest the generals' strategy of gradual reforms had been a success, Le Matin, an independent daily newspaper, wrote in an editorial published on Friday.
"For now, the 'Arab Spring' chapter is closed, and Algeria is settling into a new era of uncertainty," Le Matin wrote.
"The voter turnout for the legislatives, even if it only reached 42 per cent, is more than enough to ensure the credibility of the democratic process by which the national assembly has been elected and to reinforce their legitimacy," the paper continued.
The generals’ decision to respond to the Arab Spring by "substantially widening the political cliental" that benefits from their monopoly on power, by ensuring that members of the security forces, government bureaucrats and some opposition parties were given a greater share of the pie, Le Matin wrote, had avoided more radical change.
The official turnout figures revealed that consent was much lower in some parts of the population.
In Algiers, the capital, only 30.95 per cent cast ballots, according the official statistics. In Tizi-Ouzou, the capital of the Kabylie region which has been the historic centre of popular uprisings, only 19.84 per cent of the eligible population voted. Only 14 per cent voted among Algerians living abroad.
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|William A. Cook|