Two parties declare victory in Algerian election as votes being counted

Public focus remains sharply upon low turnout and what it means for any new government's mandate

An election official works inside in a polling station in the country's first legislative elections sine the ouster of ex-president Bouteflika, in Algiers, Algeria, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Algerians vote Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)
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While counting remains underway in Algeria's legislative elections, two of the leading contenders, the Front de Libération Nationale, (FLN) and Islamist Mouvement de la Société pour la Paix, (MSP) have claimed victory in Saturday's nationwide poll.

In addition to the Rassemblement National Démocratique, (RND) both the FLN and Muslim Brotherhood affiliated MSP are widely seen as the parties of Algeria's political establishment.

All three enjoy dominant roles in the current parliament, with the FLN outstripping its rivals with a 66 seat lead on the second place RND's 100 seats in the last 2017 election. The MSP, in comparison, only holds 33 seats.

Algeria's electoral body, the Autorité Nationale Indépendante des Elections (ANIE) expected to announce the shape of the 407 seat chamber later this week.

Overall, only 30.2 per cent of the 24 million Algerians eligible to vote turned up at the polls, with the vast majority heeding the call of protesters to boycott the vote.

Despite ongoing counting, two of the leading parties have already claimed victory, with the third, the traditionally pro-government, Rassemblement National Démocratique, (RND) holding its council.

The MSP were the first to advance their claim on Sunday, before being rebuked by authorities at ANIE.

Addressing reporters, the movement's leader, Abdel-Razzaq Makri congratulated voters, before warning against attempts to change the results, as he claimed had happened under Algeria's previous President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Any claim of electoral fraud without evidence has been rejected by ANIE.

The FLN, traditionally the party of government, also advanced its claim for victory, issuing a statement claiming to be leading all other parties with a "a very comfortable majority".

Both claims have been dismissed by ANIE until official counting has been concluded.

Meanwhile speculation remains rife over both the legitimacy of the new government and what shape it might take.

On Monday, the French Language Tout Sur l'Algérie, (TSA) suggested the elections could herald the return of a triumverate of leading parties, the FLN, RND and MSP that held sway under Mr Bouteflika, before the MSP left the alliance in 2012.

However, across much of Algeria, public focus remained sharply upon the low turnout and what it might mean for a government embarking upon a process of managed reform, rather than the dramatic overhaul of governance demanded by protesters.

None of those The National spoke to over election weekend had either voted, or claimed to respect the outcome of a poll that less than one third of the population had participated in.

Questions also remain over how independent many of the candidates billed as "independent" truly are.

Under new election rules intended to bring fresh blood into a body typically dominated by the establishment, the government banned anyone from standing who had previously served two terms or more.

Additionally, grants were made available to candidates under the age of 40 to help fund campaign costs. The result was a candidate base of around 13,000, around half of whom claimed to be independent, a statement that outlets such as the BBC have queried.

Perhaps the most critical verdict – that of the mass protest movement, or Hirak, remains. Prior to its temporary retreat due to Coronavirus, the Hirak defined the political agenda, ousting the former President and forcing a series of corruption trials in the top tiers of government.

Protester numbers have diminished since the movement's re-emergence in February.

However, given Saturday's dramatic shortfall in voter numbers, its voice clearly remains an influential one. Nevertheless, with police numbers in the capital almost rivalling those of demonstrators and mass arrests now commonplace, how long protests can continue amid the government's tepid programme of reform remains unclear.