CAIRO, EGYPT - Voter turnout in parliamentary elections across Algeria appeared to be lighter than the government had hoped, although 38 percent of eligible voters reportedly cast their ballots, according to interior ministry figures. Participation was down from 43 percent in the previous parliamentary election in 2012, as some younger voters appeared to heed calls on social media to boycott the election.
Algerians in some parts of the country appeared to vote in larger numbers than in others. Despite the regional disparities, though, Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui proclaimed the election a success, emphasizing the governing Front de Liberation Nationale party won the largest number of seats.
The FLN party won 164 seats, while the runner-up Tagama Party — with which it is allied — won 97, according to Bedoui. The next two largest parties, he adds, won 33 and 28 seats, respectively. He also says a large number of female candidates won seats in this year's election.
Ripples of discontent, however, were evident on social media.
A number of videos on social media urging voters to boycott the election appeared to resonate with some younger voters, amid anger over high youth unemployment rates and accusations of corruption against the FLN party.
Older voters appeared to be more enthusiastic about voting, amid concerns for stability. Algerians worry about civil war and chaos in neighboring countries, and hope to avoid a similar fate. The country suffered its own bloody civil war during the 1990s, in which thousands of people died. President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika is widely credited for having brought an end to that civil war, and many worry about the fate of the country when he dies.
Algerian TV showed the ailing president, who suffered a stroke several years ago and remains wheelchair-bound, casting his ballot Thursday. Lingering concerns over Bouteflika's health prompted many voters to cast their ballots amid hopes of staving off potential instability.
Female supporters of the government ululated to express support during a final campaign rally, in which Prime Minister Abdel Malek Selal defended his government's record and claimed that the country is "doing well."
Louisa Hanoune, who heads the socialist Parti des Travailleurs, disagrees with the prime minister, however, and claims many people are not satisfied with the government's performance.
She says it is a citizen's right to abstain from voting, because their decision to do so reflects anger and a rejection of the ruling parties, including what she calls their policies of marginalizing various parts of society.
Low oil and gas prices have put pressure on the government to cut back on spending, which has negatively affected young people and the less privileged portions of society.
Former Commerce Minister Amara Benyounes, who now heads the Mouvement Populaire Algerienne party, told journalists he understands why some Algerians are angry with the government, but said they need to channel their anger in a constructive way.
He says Algerians have the right to express their opinion, either by voting or by boycotting the election, but he doesn't see any solution to the country's problems outside the electoral process.
Despite claims of electoral fraud on social media, one election observer from the Arab League told journalists that voting took place under optimal conditions.
Algerian TV showed government helicopters flying in the skies of the capital Algiers as part of security measures to prevent violence during the election. It also showed police stopping vehicles to check on their owners' identities in areas around polling stations.