Jordanians Elect New Parliament in Cautious Reform Move

Jordanians were voting on Tuesday for a new parliament under revised rules meant to strengthen political parties — an election seen as a small step toward 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 favored King Abdullah II's traditional tribal supporters.

Voting in the pro-Western monarchy 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 Islamic extremists.

More than 4 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 11 a.m., 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 Hussein neighborhood of the capital of Amman.

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 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.

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 had 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 plans to serve as a vocal opposition.

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.

  • 20 September 2016
  • Visited: 5335
  • News ID: 3812
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