ALGIERS: Algeria voted Saturday in a parliamentary election overshadowed by a crackdown on a long-running protest movement that has campaigned for a mass boycott. Pro-government parties urged a big turnout for the "crucial vote" hoping to restore stability after two years of turmoil since the ouster of veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika under pressure from the protests.
The protest movement, which had held weekly demonstrations for reform until they were effectively banned last month, has denounced the election as a "sham" that betrays the hopes of the hundreds of thousands of Algerians who forced Bouteflika from power.
Seven leading protest movement figures were arrested ahead of polling day while police deployed heavily in the capital Algiers to preempt any attempt to rally.
Turnout at 1:00 pm (1200 GMT) stood at merely 10 percent, the head of the electoral commission Mohamed Chorfi said, while polls were due to close at 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) and results not expected for days.
Authorities are hoping for a solid turnout, but the two previous national votes since Bouteflika stepped down - a presidential election and a constitutional referendum - both saw record low voting after the protest movement urged a boycott.
In Algiers, only a trickle of people were seen entering polling stations, AFP correspondents said.
In the opposition stronghold of Kabylie, a mainly Berber region east of the capital, most polling stations in the main cities of Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou remained closed, said Said Salhi, deputy head of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH).
Videos on social media showed scuffles purportedly in Kabylie.
The CNLD prisoners' rights groups also reported arrests in Algiers, Boumerdes near the capital and in Tizi Ouzou.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was elected on an official turnout of less than 40 in late 2019, put a brave face on the likely low legislative turnout.
"For me, it's not the turnout percentage that's important, it's whether the lawmakers that the people elect have sufficient legitimacy," he said after casting his vote in Algiers.
More than 13,000 candidates were standing for the 407 seats in parliament, more than half listed as "independent".
The LADDH vice-president deplored the crackdown that preceded the vote.
"I've never voted, and this time it's no different. I don't believe it would change anything," said Fatiha, a shopkeeper in her 50s.
Hamid, a 60-year-old office manager, said he had voted for the sake of "stability".
"We are surrounded by danger. Those who reject this election aren't putting forward any realistic alternative," he said.