Algeria on Friday declared its ruling party for the past 50 years victor in a parliamentary election, against the tide of the "Arab Spring" which has transformed some of its neighbours.
World Bulletin/News Desk
The governing elite in Algeria, which supplies about a fifth of Europe's imported natural gas, had promised reform and a new generation of leaders in response to last year's upheavals in the region, but the election preserved the status quo.
Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia, who oversaw Thursday's election, said the National Liberation Front (FLN) would be the biggest party in the new parliament, with 220 of the 462 seats.
The FLN was the movement which fought for independence from French colonial rule and has been at the heart of power in Algeria ever since.
"There is no change," political analyst and writer Abed Charef told Reuters. "Algeria has invented the force of inertia."
The official results gave second place to the National Democratic Rally (RND), with 68 seats. The RND is led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and was in second place to the FLN in the outgoing parliament.
The Green Algeria alliance, a grouping of moderate Islamist parties with links to the ruling establishment, was in third place with 48 seats.
In fourth was the secularist Front of Socialist Forces, Algeria's oldest opposition group, which ended over a decade of boycotts to run in the election.
"The election has reinforced the Algerian people's attachment to the values of peace and stability," the minister told a news conference, echoing the official view that Algeria does not want the kind of upheavals convulsing its neighbours.
The "Arab Spring" last year prompted calls for Algeria to embrace more democracy and to renew an establishment that has run the country without interruption since independence from France in 1962.
Algeria's rulers responded by promising people an "Algerian Spring" - a managed process of reform, with Thursday's election as the first step.
Yet it was clear the election was not a clean break from the past. More than half of eligible voters abstained, with many saying they had no faith there would be real change.
Many believe real power lies with an informal network commonly known by the French term "le pouvoir", or "the power", which is unelected, has been around for years and has its roots in the security forces. Officials deny such a network exists.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 75, is likely to exercise his prerogative to appoint a new prime minister after the election. The victory makes FLN leader Abdelaziz Belkhadem, who has already served once as prime minister, a leading candidate for the job.
"The next prime minister should be Abdelaziz Belkhadem, the big winner of the legislative elections, but little if no change at all is expected in Algeria's political scene," said Farid Alilat, a political analyst and editor of online news portal DNA.
Algerians who had hoped the "Arab Spring" would lead to reform in their country were scornful of the election.
Yacine Zaid, a human rights activist and critic of the ruling elite, called the election "a masquerade, a circus ... The authorities have always dared to do what they want, to give whatever figures are in their head."
However European Union vote monitors said the organisation of the vote was satisfactory. "Citizens were, in general, able to truly exercise their right to vote," said Jose Ignacio Salafranca, head of the EU observer mission.
Attention is likely to turn now to the race to succeed Bouteflika, who is frail and is not expected to run again when his term ends in 2014. Under Algeria's constitution, the president has much more power than parliament.
The parliamentary election coincided with the 50th anniversary this year of independence from France. This will be an occasion for lavish celebrations, and also soul-searching about whether the country is on the right path.