By Hamid Ould Ahmed and Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria on Friday declared a 44 percent turnout in municipal elections and said the ruling party was victorious, keen to show its people remained engaged in the political system despite a lack of reform achieved in Arab uprisings elsewhere.
Memories in the major energy-producing state of a vicious 1990s civil war between Islamists and the state that killed around 200,000 people have, analysts say, deterred Algerians back from mass protests like those that swept away rulers in neighboring Tunisia and Libya, as well as Egypt and Yemen.
But having avoided major unrest, the North African Arab state still wants to strengthen the credibility of its political system and had aimed for a 40-45 turnout in Thursday's communal elections to illustrate that there was no widespread apathy.
Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia, reading the results of the vote at a news conference, said the outcome was in line with expectations. "The results were foreseeable," he said.
Kablia said the National Liberation Front (FLN), ruling since independence from France in 1962, was the biggest winner, followed by the National Rally for Democracy (RND), a government coalition partner led by former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia.
The Green Algeria Alliance, a grouping of Islamist parties, were left far behind, a poor result for official Islamist groups similar to their showing in legislative elections last May.
Despite Kablia's remarks, many Algerians did not seem enthused about the vote for members of more than 1,500 councils, including their mayors, believing real change could only come through the next presidential election, due in 2014.
Real local power lies not with the elected municipal councils but with appointed provincial officials, despite government promises to democratize the system.
Algeria, an OPEC member that supplies about a fifth of Europe's imported gas, and an important U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda, has used its energy revenues to lift living standards with increased social spending.
The authorities want to avoid pressure to institute real reforms in an ossified post-colonial political system in which army generals remain the real power behind the scenes.
Opposition Islamists with potential for large popular support are kept out of the system in the country of 37 million people.
Algeria saw some rioting last year over high prices, unemployment and a lack of housing units. But President Abdelaziz Bouteflika responded with a pay rise for public sector employees, free loans for young entrepreneurs and continued subsidies on basic foodstuffs.
Bouteflika, 75, is serving his third five-year term and is not expected to run in the 2014 presidential election.
(Writing by Hamid Ould Ahmed and Andrew Hammond; Editing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Andrew Roche)
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