Algerians headed to the polls on Thursday in a parliamentary election overshadowed by a deepening financial crisis and predictions of a low turnout.
Voting was extended by an hour in 42 of the 48 electoral districts, closing at 8pm (19:00 GMT), with the first results expected late on Friday morning.
More than 12,000 candidates are competing for the 462 seats of the People’s National Assembly. The election was the first since Algerian politicians amended the country’s constitutional law, giving more power to the legislature.
Unofficial reports estimated that nearly 15 percent of the country’s 23.3 million voters had cast their ballots by 12:00 GMT, or five hours after the polling started.
Some 45,000 police officers were deployed on Thursday to guard the more than 53,000 polling stations across the country.
Algeria to vote in parliamentary elections
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke, voted from a wheelchair at a polling booth in Algiers.
It was the ailing 80-year-old leader’s first appearance before the international media since he was sworn in for a fourth term in April 2014.
Wearing a suit and tie, he went behind a curtain to mark his ballot, which one of his nephews slipped into the box, and posed for photographers without making any comment.
Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front (FLN) and its coalition ally, the Rally for National Democracy, have enjoyed a comfortable majority since a 2012 poll, which they are expected to retain.
But Nourredine Bekis, professor of sociology at the University of Algiers, said parliamentarians had little real influence.
“The president holds all the power,” Bekis told the AFP news agency.
Islamist parties, who held 60 seats in the outgoing parliament, represent the country’s main opposition force.
In 2012, they had hoped they could replicate the gains of their peers in Egypt and Tunisia after the Arab Spring, but they suffered their worst ever electoral defeat. This year, they have formed two electoral alliances in bids to do better.
Few of the opposition parties, including former Prime Minister Ali Benflis’ movement and the Jil Jadid (Arabic for New Generation) political party, have called for the boycott of the legislative election, saying that the winners had been chosen before the election.
Since the adoption of a multi-party system in 1989, the opposition has repeatedly accused the ruling parties of electoral fraud.
The North African country weathered the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings with massive spending on wages and subsidies that depleted government coffers.
But a 2014 slump in crude oil prices forced the government to raise taxes and mothball many public projects.
Today, in a country of 40 million where half the population is under 30, one young person in three is unemployed.
Algerians have shown little enthusiasm for the election, with many saying they see little reason to cast their votes since the polls are rigged.
“I could not care less. The outcome of the election has already been decided. Our votes will not be taken into account so why should I bother to go to the polls?”, Karima, a 32-year-old manager at a marketing agency, who has never voted, told Al Jazeera.
Blida’s cafes filled with men who sat discussing the election, but not all planned to vote.
“This facade of a parliament should be abolished. The government passes all its laws, even the most controversial ones,” Hocine, 35, told AFP.
Mohamed, 65, said he was voting “to elect deputies who will relay the demands and the struggles of the society. This is the only issue in this election”.
But officials, fearing a low turnout and public apathy, spent weeks urging people to take part.
Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal called for a “massive vote”, urging women to wake their husbands early, refuse them coffee and “drag” them to the polling stations.
“If they resist, hit them with a stick,” he told an all-female audience in the eastern city of Setif.
Bouteflika has said a strong turnout was essential for the country’s stability.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies