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2004 Election - President

The April 8, 2004, presidential election was the first election since independence in which several candidates competed. Besides incumbent President Bouteflika, five other candidates, including one woman, competed in the election. Opposition candidates complained of some discrepancies in the voting list; irregularities on polling day, particularly in Kabylie; and of unfair media coverage during the campaign as Bouteflika, by virtue of his office, appeared on state-owned television daily. Bouteflika was re-elected in the first round of the election with 84.99% of the vote. Just over 58% of those Algerians eligible to vote participated in the election.

For the first time since the end of the one-party system and after more than a decade of civil strife and continuing acts of terrorism, a sitting president not only completed his full 5-year term of office, but was re-elected in a contested election of transparency which was unprecedented for the country; however, the election and the electoral system were not without flaws. President Bouteflika was re-elected in April to his second term, winning approximately 85 percent of the vote according to the official results. Voter participation was 58 percent, remaining steady from the 1999 elections and reflecting stable public confidence in the political process, which had steadily dropped over the past decade.

Unlike previous elections, there was marked improvement towards a more free and transparent electoral process. The military was generally neutral in the election, upholding the Chief of Staff's promise not to intervene and abiding by a January electoral reform law that eliminated the practice of voting in barracks a day before the "general vote." Six candidates representing parties with a wide-range of political views participated, and they were able to campaign publicly on television and radio. A woman also ran for president for the first time in the country's history. Unlike in 1999, the candidates did not drop out on the eve of the election; and for the first time, candidates and party representatives were able to review the voter lists prior to the election. The lists were made available to the heads of political parties on CD-ROM, reducing the possibility of election fraud. An election observer from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe stated in a press conference that the election was generally free and fair, though not without flaws.

Problems with the electoral system persisted. The Administrative Court of Algiers was criticized among the country's political class and independent media for having invalidated the National Liberation Front's Eighth Party Congress. The invalidation was viewed as politically motivated and a setback to the president's main opponent, former Prime Minister and FLN Secretary-General Ali Benflis, because the party representatives chosen during the Eighth Party Congress were Benflis supporters. The invalidation also froze the FLN's bank accounts.

Opposition candidates also complained that the Ministry of the Interior regularly blocked registered parties from holding meetings; denied them access to larger and better equipped government conference rooms; and pressured hotels into not making conference rooms available, while facilitating the activities of the pro-Bouteflika FLN. According to the Constitutional Council, which validates election results and determines whether candidates meet all the requirements, three potential candidates did not receive sufficient numbers of signatures for placement of their names on the ballot. Two candidates claimed the Council's invalidation of their signatures was politically motivated, but they were unable to provide any evidence of fraud. Despite opposition candidates' access to the state-controlled media during the official 3-week election campaign period, they were systematically denied similar access both before the campaign and following the election.

Furthermore, the incumbent's ability to use state largesse in government work projects in every wilaya to amass political support 8 months before the election created inequitable campaign advantages. Additionally, opposition candidates, primarily the (Islamist) "Islah" or Renaissance Party, expressed concern over potential tampering of the voter lists. Candidates filed numerous complaints that the lists were neither alphabetized nor classified by voting station or gender; that the lists did not conform to the electoral lists used during election day (which comprised full name, date and place of birth, and address for each voter); and that the number of voters on the list was inflated. The Electoral Commission made hundreds of corrections based on these filed complaints.

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