CAIRO — With a notable lack of enthusiasm, Algerians went to the polls Thursday in a presidential vote that the 77-year-old incumbent, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was considered likely to win despite his obviously failing health.
The tumult of the Arab Spring uprising three years ago largely bypassed the oil-rich North African nation, still exhausted by its sapping civil war in the 1990s, which Bouteflika helped bring to an end.
Discontent over high unemployment, a housing crunch and political stagnation is expressing itself mainly in the form of voter boycotts. Young voters dominate the electorate, but they were little seen at the polls as the balloting began amid tight security.
With Bouteflika’s near-incapacitation, a fourth-term victory for him would maintain a status quo under which proxies and proteges already manage the business of governance. But preelection demonstrations against his continued rule could be a sign of turmoil to come, particularly if Algeria’s foreign reserves begin to dwindle, oil prices take a predicted drop and badly needed economic reforms are not enacted.
The president, who suffered a stroke last year, did virtually no campaigning, has made almost no public appearances for a year, and appeared dazed and unresponsive during a visit earlier this month by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. In the run-up to the election he spent months away from the capital having medical treatment abroad.
Five rivals are challenging Bouteflika and have pledged to raise an outcry if the vote appears fraudulent — a serious concern in every election since Bouteflika came to power in 1999. A low turnout could also make it hard for the Bouteflika camp to claim a popular mandate, even if he is the victor.