Jordanians elect new parliament in cautious reform move

Under new voting rules, voters can choose candidates from lists in 23 electoral districts

Image Credit: Reuters
A man casts his ballot at a polling station for parliamentary elections in Amman, Jordan.
Gulf News

Amman: Jordanians were voting on Tuesday for a new parliament under revised rules meant to strengthen political parties — an election seen as a step towards democratic reform.

Jordan’s veteran opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, competed for the first time in almost a decade, after boycotting two previous elections because of a “one man, one vote” system it said favoured the government’s traditional tribal supporters.

Voting in the country comes at a time of growing conflict in the region, highlighting Jordan’s efforts to portray itself as an island of stability despite external and internal threats by Islamist extremists.

The kingdom is a member of the US-led coalition battling terrorists in both neighbouring countries and was the target of a June 21 suicide bombing claimed by Daesh that killed seven border guards.

The interior ministry said 50,000 policemen have been mobilised to ensure security at polling stations.

The Phenix Center, a local pollster, has said 42 per cent of eligible voters planned not to take part in the election.

In Jordan, King Abdullah II can appoint and sack military and intelligence chiefs, senior judges and members of parliament’s upper house without government approval.

More than four million Jordanians were eligible to vote for a 130-member parliament, with 15 seats reserved for women, nine for Christians and three for minority Chechens and Circassians. By 11am, about 345,000 voters had cast their ballots.

Voter Nour Al Ghwairi, 44, said she hoped the new parliament would tackle Jordan’s mounting economic difficulties.

“The country suffers from unemployment and other problems,” she said after casting her ballot at a school in the Jabal Hussain neighbourhood of the capital of Amman.

Outside the polling station, one of the candidates had pitched a tent where he was serving coffee to voters as they came out.

Saga Asaf, a veiled 20-year-old who said she was voting for the first time, said she hoped to see “new faces” in the next parliament.

“I hope that the candidate that I voted for will work to secure a better future for young people and especially to find a solution to the unemployment problem.

“Most young people can’t find work when they leave university,” she said.

Unemployment has reached 14 per cent, according to official figures, while independent analysts estimate the figure is between 22 and 30 per cent, in a country where 70 per cent of the population is aged under 30.

Analysts said electoral reforms have fallen short and are unlikely to lead to significant change. They said they expect the new parliament to be similar to the outgoing one — largely made up of individuals with competing narrow interests.

Under new voting rules, voters chose candidates from lists in 23 electoral districts. In all, 1,252 candidates are running on 226 lists.

Only six per cent of the lists are affiliated with a specific political party, 11 per cent have some party representatives, 39 per cent are independent and 43 per cent are based on tribal affiliations, according to the International Republican Institute, a US-based non-partisan group that seeks to promote democracy.

“While there might be some consolidation compared to previous parliaments, you are still going to see a parliament of individuals,” said Ramsey Day, the IRI’s Jordan director.

The most organised party is the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, a veteran opposition movement linked to the regional organisation of the same name.

In Jordan, ideological arguments had split the group into rival factions, with one of the breakaways recognised by the government as the official Brotherhood.

The IAF said the group expects to win at least one-fourth of the seats and plans to serve as a vocal opposition.

The IAF couldn’t afford boycotting this election, despite continued misgivings about procedures, said analyst Ayoub Al Nmour from the election monitoring group Al Hayat.

“Boycotting for so long caused them to lose a lot of their weight” in Jordanian politics, he said.