CAIRO - Observers in Algeria say turnout has been fairly low for Thursday's presidential election, amid reports on social media of scattered violence and large protests in various parts of the country. The official election commission reported that turnout stood at over 7% at 11 a.m. local time, with several Algerian media outlets reporting that turnout had reached approximately 20% by late afternoon.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Algiers' iconic post office building — the epicenter of months of popular protests — chanting slogans against Thursday's presidential election.
Some could be heard shouting, “Down with the dictator,” amid the din of the crowd. Algeria has been governed by an interim president since protests forced former leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign in April.
Algerian TV showed an election official proclaiming that turnout at 11 a.m. had surpassed 7% across the country, despite a number of irregularities.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya's TV correspondent in the capital, Algiers, reported that turnout at one polling station on the outskirts of the capital had climbed to approximately 15% by mid-afternoon, amid what appeared to be general apathy.
Several Algerian media outlets reported that turnout had reached 20% nationwide by 4 p.m., quoting an unnamed election official.
Hamel Kheireddin, a spokesman for a group of young protesters calling themselves "Youth Movers,” alleged that cheating was taking place, because government media were showing crowds at polling stations, while few people actually turned out to cast ballots. VOA could not independently confirm his claim.
Amateur video posted on social media showed a crowd of mostly young demonstrators forcing their way into a polling station in Tizi Ouzo, as several young men seized voting urns and spilled ballots on the ground.
Some older Algerians told Arab media that they supported the holding of a presidential election, despite the opposition of many fellow citizens.
A man in his 70s says he respects the views of the protesters but that he favors holding the election, because it is better to elect a president and have a legitimate authority in the country.
Activist Mourad Biatour of the Coalition for Culture and Democracy told Arab media he thinks the election is "illegitimate" because he feels that polling was "almost completely paralyzed" in the provinces of Tizi Ouzo and Bejaya. VOA could not independently confirm the claim.
Biatour said says the government is using police to try to force people to vote in a number of places and that this is a sign that Algeria is becoming a real dictatorship. He insists he would not accept to be president when the majority of Algerians are refusing to vote.
Ezzedin Mayoubi, one of five men running for president, told Algerian media that Algerians should vote because it is their civic duty.
Mayoubi said that those who disagree should respect the will of the people (who want to vote) and put the interests of the nation above their own personal interests or the agendas of various groups.
The protesters see the election as a way to keep the ruling elite in power. They are demanding that the elite, which has been governing the country since independence from France in 1962, be replaced by new faces with no ties to the old government.