ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — The European Union observer mission Saturday called Algeria's elections an important step toward reform, even as the opposition denounced the overwhelming win by government parties as resulting from fraud.
The EU did say, however, that additional measures could have been taken to increase transparency and trust in the process.
Algeria's main ruling party took nearly half the seats in the elections, prompting the independent daily El Watan to describe the election result as the "The Status Quo" in a banner headline — a marked departure from recent elections in other Arab countries that brought the opposition to power.
The stunning victory came as a surprise after decades of parliaments that were more evenly split between several parties, including Islamists, and provoked an audible gasp from journalists when the results were announced Friday.
An alliance of three Islamist parties that had expected to do well, according to their own observers at polling stations, cried fraud, after taking just 48 seats, dozens less than their total in the last parliament.
The European mission, however, said elections took place in an atmosphere of calm efficiency, though it did not describe them as free and fair.
"The elections mark an important first stage of reform," the observer mission's statement said. "The mission noted an atmosphere of general calm and order during the vote."
The mission did suggest that a number of measures could be taken to increase the transparency of the process, including giving political parties access to the national voter registry. It had asked to see the registry as well, as part of its observation, and was flatly turned down by the Interior Ministry, which said the information was confidential.
Mission head Jose Ignacio Salafranca said observers regretted the decision, describing voting lists as an "essential element" of their work.
"According to an agreement we had with the Algerian government, we would have total access to information — we received limited access," he said.
Regarding the allegations of fraud, Salafranca suggested that the results of the individual voting stations that should have been made available to the political parties be consulted and compared to the announced results.