ALGIERS: Algerians trickled into voting booths Thursday to elect the president of this oil-rich North African nation in an election expected to be dominated by the ailing incumbent running for a fourth term.
Despite suffering from a stroke and being entirely absent from the three-week election campaign, 77-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika is backed by the powerful institutions of the state and represents stability for Algerians.
Many of the 23 million registered voters, especially younger ones, are not expected to turn out to vote, however. High official turnouts in past presidential elections have been greeted with widespread skepticism.
"I can't say how many of my friends will vote," said retiree Rachid Bahriz after voting in a stately downtown high school in the capital Algiers. "Most were not very enthusiastic."
Those that were voting emphasized the importance of stability and continuity - key issues for those who survived Algeria's decade-long civil war against radical Islamists in the 1990s that left 200,000 dead.
"I voted for Bouteflika because he has done good work and many good things," said Ahcene Oulmane, who works in a local medical clinic. He dismissed concerns about the president's visible infirmity. "He is capable of continuing."
Bouteflika has made limited appearances on television since his stroke and has clear difficulty speaking and standing.
Algerian state television showed him being wheeled into his traditional polling station to vote in the morning. He smiled but did not appear to speak.
While Algeria escaped the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring, frustrated youth stage thousands of small demonstrations every year over the lack of jobs, opportunities and housing.
Most problems have been addressed by spending the country's impressive oil wealth but resources are dwindling and soon the government may have to pursue a different approach to meet the people's needs.
Of the five candidates running against Bouteflika, his former prime minister, Ali Benflis, has mounted the most vigorous campaign.
He has warned that he has placed observers in each of the 60,000 polling stations across the country and he and his supporters will not be silent if there is fraud.
Bouteflika won re-election in 2009 with 90 percent of the vote - a figure believed to be inflated by local and international observers.