But many people were mistrustful of promises from the ruling elite -- in power uninterrupted since independence 50 years ago -- that it was embarking on genuine democratic reform.
A strong performance for Islamists would bring Algeria, which supplies about one fifth of Europe's natural gas imports, into line with Arab neighbors who have seen Islamists come to power after last year's uprisings.
In contrast to countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, the Islamists seeking office in Algeria are firmly part of the establishment, have no radical agenda and are unlikely to try to undo the ruling elite's grip on power.
Algeria's rulers responded to the upheavals in neighboring countries by promising its own people an “Algerian Spring” - a managed process of reform, with the election as the first step.
“The young people will make an Algerian Spring in this election,” said Bouguera Soltani, whose mildly Islamist “Green Alliance” coalition is tipped to become one of the biggest forces in the new parliament.
“The 2012 parliament is different from the previous ones because it will have new prerogatives. People who boycott (the vote) will regret it,” he said on Thursday as he voted near his home in Staoueli, a town west of the capital.
Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said turnout was 42.9 percent, not the mass abstention many people had been expecting.
Nevertheless, the election has been low-key and marked by widespread indifference from Algerians who find it hard to believe anything is going to change.
Many believe real power lies with an informal network commonly known by the French term “le pouvoir,” or “the power,” which is unelected, has been around for years and has its roots in the security forces. Officials deny this network exists.
Yacine Zaid, a human rights activist and opponent of the ruling elite, said he thought the election was “a masquerade, a circus. ... The authorities have always dared to do what they want, to give whatever figures are in their head.”
However, there is little appetite for a revolt. Energy revenues have lifted living standards and people look with alarm at the bloodshed in neighboring Libya after its insurrection.