Imed Lamloum
Last updated: 20 September, 2016

Jordanians head to polls to elect new parliament

Jordanians go to the polls Tuesday in a vote that could see opposition Islamists re-emerge as a major parliamentary force in the kingdom, following boycotts in two previous elections.

Around 4.1 million voters — from a population of 6.6 million — are to pick 130 lawmakers from 1,252 candidates for a four-year mandate.

The polls are scheduled to open at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and close 12 hours later.

Seats have been set aside for 15 women, nine Christians and three representatives of the Circassian and Chechen minorities.

Businessmen and tribal officials loyal to the monarchy are expected to emerge the biggest winners.

The focus will be on turnout and the performance of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Experts expect them to clinch around 20 seats in the 130-seat parliament, which would make it the largest opposition force.

The Phenix Center, a local pollster, has said 42 percent of eligible voters planned not to take part in the election, reflecting a general lack of enthusiasm for a parliament with limited powers to affect government policy.

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.

The country’s highest religious authority, Dar al-Iftaa, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling voting a national and religious duty.

It also warned against fraud and vote buying, a common practice in past elections.

Jordan’s electoral commission head said the polls would be conducted in accordance with international standards. The polls will be monitored by 14,000 local observers and 676 from abroad, including 66 sent by the European Union.

The Islamists boycotted polls in 2010 and 2013 in protest at the electoral system and allegations of fraud.

The system gives disproportionate clout to rural districts, which are less populated than the cities but tend to return tribal candidates loyal to the monarchy.

The Islamists — weakened by internal divisions and repression — announced in June they would take part after the electoral law was amended.

The authorities have amended the law to allow political parties to run lists, rather than a “single vote” system that benefited tribal candidates.

The vote comes as Jordan wrestles with stubbornly high unemployment, fears of a spillover from the wars in neighbouring Syria and Iraq and the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees.

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

Jordan, a member of the US-led coalition battling jihadists in Syria, was the target of a June 21 suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group that killed seven border guards.

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