Algeria has held parliamentary elections billed by the government as a step toward gradual reform. But opponents say the ruling elite has no intention of relinquishing its long-held power.
Algerians voted Thursday in parliamentary elections, which the government has framed as a gradual response to rapid political change in neighboring north African nations.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Tuesday called on Algerians to vote "massively," but people are disillusioned with the ruling elite that has been in power since independence from France half a century ago.
Participation in the elections is being viewed as a barometer of the elite's ability to avert a popular uprising similar to those in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. The Interior Ministry, which put the turnout at 42.9 percent, is expected to announce the elections' first results on Friday.
Deadly rioting in January 2011 coincided with an uprising in neighboring Tunisia that toppled Zine el Abidine Ben Ali from his role as president.
Bouteflika responded to that unrest by promising reforms, allowing 23 new political parties, creating new seats in the country's parliament and accrediting 500 international observers to monitor the poll.
'Algeria is our spring'
The official election slogan, "Algeria is our spring," has been adopted in an effort to encourage transition rather than an Arab Spring-inspired revolution.
Opponents say the authorities' moves towards reform are superficial and that the ruling elite is not genuinely prepared to relinquish power.
After initially welcoming European Union and African Union observers, Algiers denied them access to national election lists and warned monitors not to be overly critical of the election process.
In 1991, parliamentary elections looked likely to be won by the country's Islamists of the Islamic Salvation Front, known as the FIS. A military coup then banned them from politics, leading to a decade-long civil war.
Bouteflika's National Liberation Front, which was the country's only sanctioned party until 1989, has been steadily losing ground since then.
slk, ng/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters)