Algiers: As Parliamentary Elections unfolded across Algeria on Thursday, voting appeared to be 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 Parliament, though the real question will be if the turnout surpasses the anaemic 35 percent of 2007.
Most Algerians, however, have shown little interest in the elections, if not outright scorn, citing a weak Parliament and a history of rigged contests.
"These elections are nothing," said Marwan Bou Amama, 32, as he sat with friends on a hillside park overlooking Algiers` bay, not far from a voting station. "We here in Algeria, we live in a huge coffin. We are the living dead. At my age I should be married, I should have a house. It`s a basic right."
Despite its hydrocarbon wealth, there is widespread dissatisfaction in the country and frequent demonstrations and riots over unemployment, poor utilities and lack of housing. Unemployment is only officially at 10 percent, but rises to at least 20 percent among university graduates. About 70 percent of the population is under 35.
As polling stations opened, it was often elderly pensioners shuffling in to cast their ballot, many saying they had been voting since the country`s independence in 1962, even though Algeria was a one party state until 1990.
"I am voting for my children, for their future, it`s not for me," said Omar Blaeaki, an elderly retiree at a polling station at a stately old school in central Algiers. "This time around it is more sincere and honest than before, we are voting like they do in America or France."
In Algiers` bustling Bab el-Oued district, streets were filled with people shopping and children playing while their schools were being used as polling stations.
In contrast to the bright sunlight and noise outside, it was cool and quiet in the Abdel Kader High School, a grand old building near the sea where French existentialist writer Albert Camus was educated.