Algerians reportedly abstained in large numbers from the country’s parliamentary elections today – despite the poll being billed as the fairest in 20 years.
The Arab Spring revolts failed to make many waves in Algeria, an oil-rich nation, which was racked by a decade of brutal civil war during the 1990s.
But wary of the convulsions in neighbouring Libya, the government has promised a so-called “Algerian Spring” of managed reform and step-by-step change.
The government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika claimed that the elections would provide a platform for the new parliament to pursue substantial constitutional reform.
But many Algerians, perhaps mindful of the supine role which previous parliaments have played under President Bouteflika’s 13 year rule, seem to have remained unconvinced.
Polling stations across the country were handling only a trickle of voters today, while attendance during campaign rallies has been lacklustre.
One voter, Ashraf Lahgui, an unemployed 25-year-old, dismissed the poll. “In Algeria, it's the law of the strong,” he said.
A total of 44 parties are contesting 462 seats in the election, while 500 international observers have been invited in to monitor the poll.
The last election considered to have been free and fair took place in 1991, when the Islamic Salvation Front was the run-away favourite.
But unwilling to stomach an Islamist triumph, the military halted the election and banned the party, sparking a long-running civil war which killed around 200,000 people.
The main contenders in today’s poll are two government-affiliated parties who are fighting a bloc of Islamist groups known as the “Green Alliance”. During a previous election in 2007 the turnout was just 35 per cent.
Despite its huge energy resources – Algeria supplies about one fifth of Europe’s natural gas – in recent years there have been sporadic outbreaks of unrest, in part caused by high unemployment and housing shortages.