By Hamid Ould Ahmed and Lamine Chikhi
Algiers – Apathetic Algerians voted in low numbers on Thursday for a parliament widely seen as subservient to the powerful presidency, ignoring a government appeal to turn the election into a display of opposition to Islamist rebels.
Attacks by Islamist groups have threatened the north African country’s attempts to rebuild after years of political bloodshed and police searched voters as they entered polling stations.
In Algiers’ Ouled Fayet district, Hadj Smain Hamdane, 60, said: “I am voting because it’s a routine for me that I have never missed. But to be frank I am not expecting any changes.”
The presidency is the most powerful office of state in Algeria, a major oil and gas exporter, and Algerians tend to say it is the incumbent, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, rather than parliament who holds the key to a better future.
In the Casbah, the crumbling, Turkish-era old city where French paratroopers fought pro-independence guerrillas in the 1957 Battle of Algiers, some voters appeared upbeat even if they recognised the limits of the assembly’s power.
“I am here because I want to take part in boosting national reconciliation. Our country also needs to launch a real war on poverty and unemployment,” said middle-aged voter Aicha Bachi.
In the neighbouring Bab El Oued district, Fatima Hadj, 43, said: “Our parliament isn’t powerful enough to make important decisions. But I don’t want to boycott because the national assembly can help resolve our social problems.”
In the Saharan south, blue-robed Touareg tribesmen voted in temperatures near 40 degrees Celsius, state television showed.
Voting stations closed at 8pm (19h00 GMT), and final results are due at 09h00 GMT on Friday. The assembly is likely to remain dominated by the three parties of a governing coalition.
Turnout was low, with 28 percent of voters having cast their ballots by 5pm compared with 38 percent at the same time in the previous elections in 2002, officials…