Jordanians elect new parliament in cautious reform move
Posted September 20
AMMAN, Jordan — Jordanians voted Tuesday for a new parliament under revised rules that officials say are meant to strengthen political parties but are seen by some as a small step, at most, toward democratic reform.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the kingdom's most organized opposition group, competed for the first time since 2007, but was not expected to win enough seats to challenge control of parliament by establishment candidates, including tribal representatives.
The vote comes at a time of regional turmoil, including domestic and external security threats to pro-Western Jordan by Islamic State extremists who control large areas in neighboring Syria and Iraq. In holding regular elections, Jordan seeks to strengthen its image as an island of stability in the region.
However, parliament is weak, with most powers remaining in the hands of King Abdullah II. Polls have indicated widespread voter apathy, despite the participation of the Brotherhood.
Polls closed at 8 p.m. (1700 GMT), after 13 hours of voting, including an hour-long extension in some districts due to a late voter surge, officials said. About 1.5 million Jordanians cast ballots, the Independent Election Commission said, or roughly 200,000 more than in the last election in 2013.
In principle, more than 4.1 million Jordanians older than 17 were eligible to vote, but those presently abroad — about 1 million according to commission spokesman Jihad Momani — cannot cast ballots. The potential voter pool was half that size in 2013, when voters had to pre-register and turnout reached 56 percent. Momani said there was no point in comparing turnout percentages.
Results were not expected before Wednesday, Momani said.
Voter Nour al-Ghwairi, 44, said she hoped the new parliament would tackle Jordan's economic difficulties, such as rising joblessness, particularly among the young. "The country suffers from unemployment and other problems," she said after voting in the Jabal Hussein neighborhood of the capital, Amman.
Elsewhere in central Amman, 71-year-old Othman Abu Felah said he didn't bother voting because "it doesn't help anything." Katrina Sammour, a political researcher, said she would cast a blank ballot in protest because she believes parliament is weak and no party or list addresses her concerns.
Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki, appointed in May after the king dissolved the outgoing parliament, said that Jordan is proud to hold elections in a stable atmosphere.
"We resort to ballot boxes and to the electoral process to select the path for the future, and we don't resort to anything else," he said, apparently referring to escalating conflicts in the region.
Tuesday's election is being held under new rules that replace the "one man, one vote" system. The old method, in place since 1993, had discouraged the formation of political parties.
Critics said the latest electoral reforms have fallen short and are unlikely to lead to meaningful 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 ran on 226 lists.
Only six percent of the lists are affiliated with a specific political party, 11 percent have some party representatives, 39 percent are independent and 43 percent are based on tribal affiliations, according to the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-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. He said this is "somewhat inconsistent" with what has been cited as the ultimate goal of democratic reforms, a government formed by parliament.
"While this (election) might take a step forward toward that, it's quite a small step," he said.
Anja Wehler-Schoeck, Jordan director of Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation, said that "we are still very far from" a robust parliamentary democracy.
Parliament is "a weak institution in the political system in Jordan," said Wehler-Schoeck, who also cited a trust gap between citizens and legislators. The foundation is affiliated with Germany's Social Democratic Party and seeks to promote democracy worldwide.
The most organized party is the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, a veteran opposition movement linked to the regional organization of the same name.
In Jordan, ideological arguments split the group into rival factions, with one of the breakaways recognized by the government as the official Brotherhood.
The IAF said the group expects to win at least one-fourth of the seats and serve as a vocal opposition, while analysts expected they would win about 20 seats. The group boycotted elections in 2010 and 2013, saying electoral laws were unfair.
Zaki Bani Ersheid, a senior Brotherhood official, said Tuesday that he believes a strong showing for the movement would increase "confidence in the legislative institution, and confidence between the people and the government."
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.
Associated Press writers Omar Akour, Sam McNeil and Khetam Malkawi in Amman contributed to this report..