Thousands of people took to the streets in central Algiers yesterday chanting “No vote! We want freedom!” as the authorities held a presidential election that a mass protest movement views as a charade intended to keep the ruling elite in power. Police rushed the crowd with sticks to disperse the marchers, but then fell back as more protesters arrived. The army, the strongest political player, sees the election as the only way to restore order by naming a successor to Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was toppled by a popular uprising earlier this year after two decades in office. All five candidates that won approval to stand in the election are former senior officials, including two former prime ministers, and protesters say none is likely to challenge the army’s dominance.