The election is opposed by a massive protest movement that wants the vote cancelled until the entire ruling elite has been swept from power. Polls opened at 0700 GMT and closed at 1800 GMT.

Algerian demonstrators take to the streets in the capital Algiers to reject the presidential elections, in Algeria, December 12, 2019.
Algerian demonstrators take to the streets in the capital Algiers to reject the presidential elections, in Algeria, December 12, 2019. (AP)

Polls closed on Thursday as Algeria's presidential election, which was opposed by a large protest movement, came to an end.

Preliminary results are expected on Friday, with official results later this month and a possible second-round run-off in early January. 

Algeria held a tense presidential election meant to bring stability after a year of turmoil, but voting was marred as protesters stormed polling stations and thousands rallied in the capital.

The unpopular vote comes almost 10 months after a people power movement ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, after two decades in office, and as demonstrators keep pushing for an end to the military-backed political system.

Tens of thousands rallied in central Algiers, defying a heavy police presence backed by water cannon and helicopters, and despite the arrests of at least 10 activists meant to prevent a repeat of the previous day's anti-election rallies.

Journalist Nabila Ramdani has more.

'Mired in crisis' 

The ballot features five candidates, all of them widely rejected as "children of the regime" by the protesters.

Among them are two of the ousted leader's former prime ministers — Abdelmajid Tebboune, 74, and Ali Benflis, 75 — and a former minister, Azzedine Mihoubi.

While only a trickle of voters cast their ballots in some districts, national television showed longer queues elsewhere, leading some online commentators to wonder "how much they have been paid".

Voter turnout stood at just over 20 percent at 1400 GMT, seven hours after polls opened, said electoral committee chief Mohamed Charfi.

That was below the 23 percent recorded at the same time of day in elections five years ago, when total participation reached 50.7 percent.

But some said they were determined to cast their ballots.

"I am voting because I am afraid that the country will get mired in the crisis," said Karim, a 28-year-old civil servant.

Mahdid Saadi, a 76-year-old retiree, showed off his voter card with many stamps and said: "I have always voted and I still vote today, it is a duty."

TRT World's Alican Ayanlar has more.

Protests after polls opened

Hundreds of people protested in central Algiers on Thursday against the presidential election hours after polls opened, with demonstrators calling for a boycott of a vote they regard as a charade.

A group stormed a polling station in the capital, suspending voting there for about half an hour, before police pushed them out again, AFP reporters witnessed.

Unrest also erupted in the northern mountain region of Kabylie, home to much of the country's Berber minority, where groups "ran sacked the ballot boxes and destroyed part of the electoral lists" in Bejaia, a resident said.

Video footage shared on social media, purportedly from a polling station there, showed dozens of people tossing ballot papers into the air and stamping on them, while clips from other cities showed large demonstrations.

In Bouira, east of Algiers, the capital, security forces used tear gas to push back protesters who had invaded a voting station in a high school, according to the online TSA news agency, citing witnesses.

They "ransacked the ballot boxes and destroyed part of the electoral lists" in the mountainous region's city of Bejaia, said one witness contacted by AFP from Algiers.

Some of the polling stations in Kabylie have been closed, witnesses and residents said.

Crowds also surrounded a government building in Tizi Ouzou, where security forces fired teargas to repel them, witnesses told AFP from the region with a long history of opposition to the central government.

Ruling elite and military

The mass protest movement wants the vote put off until the entire ruling elite steps down and the military quits politics.

The army, the strongest political player, sees the vote as the only way to restore order in Africa's largest country, a major natural gas supplier to Europe and home to 40 million people.

Early in the morning, it was quiet at one central Algiers polling station, though police were patrolling the city's streets on foot and in vehicles.

"The country has entered a critical phase," said Aziz Djibali, 56, who went to vote at a polling station near the prime minister's office.

"It's time for Algerians to voice their opinions peacefully."


Demonstrators at the huge protests that have roiled Algiers and other major cities for almost 10 months have sworn they will boycott Thursday's vote, which they see as a charade designed to keep the existing ruling elite in place.

The five men on the ballot are all former senior officials, including two former prime ministers and two former government ministers, who, protesters believe, are unlikely to challenge the army's political primacy.

Protests helped oust veteran president Bouteflika in April and forced the authorities to twice delay an election previously scheduled for April and July.

However, powerful army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah has insisted the vote now go ahead as the only way to restore legitimacy to the government and end the standoff between protesters and the state.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies