As parliamentary elections unfolded across Algeria on Thursday, voting was light for much of day in the capital, despite these contests being billed the freest in 20 years. A coalition of Islamist parties is hoping to replicate the election successes of other Islamists across North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings of 2011, but they face stiff competition from two government parties with deeply entrenched networks. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika spent the past several months urging Algerians to come out and vote, alternating promises of bold new reforms after elections with warnings that foreign powers might invade Algeria if there is a low turnout. No party is expected to dominate the parliament, though the real question will be if there is a substantial turnout. Just hours before the polls closed, the government put the participation rate at 35 percent, suggesting it will be more than in 2007, but not by much.
Early turnout figures showed much higher rates of participation in rural areas and Algeria’s desert south, compared to the cities. Government officials have already predicted a 45 percent turnout. At one voting center in Algiers’ working class neighborhood of Bab el-Oued, however, turnout at the close of the station was just between 25 and 30 percent.
Of those who did bother voting, 22 percent of the ballots were either void or defaced, with the Islamist “Green Alliance” coming in a close second. Most Algerians, however, have shown little interest in the elections — if not outright scorn — citing a weak parliament and a history of rigged contests.