Algerians caught a glimpse of their ailing president Thursday, barely able to cast a ballot in parliamentary elections that the government hopes will give it a mandate as it struggles with low oil prices, dismal job prospects and Islamic extremism.
The government has been worried about voter apathy — and even a potential boycott — and analysts say bribery scandals during the campaign have deepened long-running distrust of politicians. The key question remained the health of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, rarely seen in public since a 2013 stroke.
Bouteflika was wheeled in a chair to vote, but was unable to physically cast his ballot. A nephew did it for him. He then had trouble with the fingerprinting afterward.
An unofficial call to boycott led by young Algerians popular on YouTube has unexpectedly gone viral, with one video getting 3.9 million views in a country with around 20 million eligible to vote.
Early Thursday, polling stations were nearly empty and separatists in the Kabylie region ransacked polls in a village about 100 kilometers (60 miles) outside Algiers to block the vote there.
A total of 63 parties and many independent lists are competing for 462 seats in the lower house of parliament. The parties have struggled to come up with enough female candidates to meet a law that requires 30 percent of the next parliament to be women.
Oil and natural gas drive Algeria’s economy, accounting for 30 percent of its GDP. Low oil prices have hammered the government, and youth unemployment hovers around 25 percent. Young Algerians tend to look to Europe for their futures, and the French election on Sunday has been getting far more attention than the legislative vote in the former French colony.
Results are expected Friday afternoon.