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Algerians vote with stability on their minds

Ailing president expected to win, despite unrest

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, seen here in a poster, made his first public appearance since May 2012 when he voted.

Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, seen here in a poster, made his first public appearance since May 2012 when he voted.

ALGIERS — Algeria’s ailing president was wheeled to the voting booth Thursday to cast his ballot for his fourth term in an election he is expected to dominate as the few Algerians who do bother going to the polls will most likely choose stability over change.

Scattered clashes erupted around the country as young men attacked some polling stations, however, hinting at the dissatisfaction over President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s rule.

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Bouteflika voted in front of state media at an Algiers polling station. It was his first public appearance since May 2012 and followed his absence from an election campaign that was entirely about his record 15 years ruling this oil-rich US ally in the war against terror.

The president is recovering from a stroke he suffered last year that left him with speaking and mobility difficulties, but he retains some popularity for a population traumatized by war.

Voter turnout in the capital appeared to be fairly light, with older people voting in numbers and the young — who make up a majority of the population — staying away. Three hours before the polls closed, the government reported a nationwide turnout of 37 percent.

Despite a vigorous campaign waged by the main opposition candidate, Ali Benflis, the president was expected to win with a comfortable margin. Algerians interviewed at polling stations appeared to respond to his message that he is still the only man able to ensure stability.

Memories of a brutal struggle against radical Islamists in the 1990s that claimed 200,000 lives are still fresh in many people’s memory, and for them Bouteflika has been synonymous with a return to peace.

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‘‘Young people don’t vote, but people my age vote because they remember the dark times, and they know what’s important,’’ said Nabil Damous, a 41-year-old voting in the low-income Bab el-Oued neighborhood. ‘‘People who don’t vote don’t want this country to move forward.’’

Sonia Izem, a middle-age woman, said she was voting for Bouteflika because she, too, remembered when Bab el-Oued was a battleground between security forces and Islamists — and because she felt that the rampant corruption in the country would be less during the fourth term.

‘‘The people around him have already stolen a lot and they have nearly filled their sack and they won’t need to steal very much in the next term,’’ she said. ‘‘If we bring in someone new, they will have to start stealing all over again.’’

Yet 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.

In several cities, young people clashed with police after attempting to destroy ballot boxes. The most serious clash was near Bouira, 60 miles southeast of Algiers, in which 44 policemen and numerous demonstrators were injured.

Thanks to high oil prices over the past decade, dissatisfaction has 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.

The government said 186,000 police were mobilized to protect the polls. There was heavy security in Algiers on Thursday. A few small demonstrations by those calling for a boycott of the vote quickly dispersed.

Benflis, the opposition candidate, has warned against election fraud and said that he and his supporters will not remain silent, but he has stopped short of calling for demonstrations.

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