Algeria's parliamentary elections on Thursday are being billed as the fairest in 20 years, but Algerians appeared to be showing little interest and even outright scorn for the vote.

There are 44 political parties competing for 462 seats across this vast oil-rich North African nation of 35 million people, Africa's largest by area. Some 500 international observers are monitoring an election the government has promoted as vital to the country's future and key to constitutional reform.

But most Algerians are distrustful of politics and largely ignored a three-week campaigning period that ended on Sunday. Party rallies were rarely full and in some cases candidates were heckled and even pelted with rocks by disaffected citizens.

The main competitors in the election are two government affiliated parties squaring off against a three-party bloc of Islamist parties known as the “Green Alliance.” No party is expected to dominate Parliament, though the real question will be if the turnout surpasses the anaemic 35 per cent of 2007.

There is a deep distrust of politicians and politics in Algiers after years of rigged elections and rubber-stamp Parliaments that have done little more than approve the policies of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Despite its hydrocarbon wealth, there is widespread dissatisfaction and frequent demonstrations and riots over unemployment, poor utilities and lack of housing. While unemployment is only officially at 10 per cent, it rises to at least 20 per cent among those under 30, some 70 per cent of the population.

Those who did cast ballots evoked a sense of duty and the future of this nation that has lived through long years of an Islamist insurgency.

The last truly fair elections in 1991 were dominated by a populist Islamist party known as the Islamic Salvation Front, but the military stepped in, cancelled the voting and banned the party, prompting more than a decade of civil war that killed an estimated 200,000. No party has since been able to mobilise Algeria's disaffected citizens to the same degree.

The historic party of the independence fight from colonial ruler France, the National Liberation Front, with its deep network across the country, has since won the most seats.

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