AMMAN - Jordanians vote on Wednesday in parliamentary
elections boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood which says the electoral system is
rigged in favor of rural tribal areas and against the urban poor.
kingdom's first general election since the Arab spring brought once-marginalized
Islamists to power in several countries in the region, the government has
promised free and fair polls and predicted a good turnout, despite the
"There are not two people in Jordan who are whispering that the
government will interfere in the elections," Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour told
Reuters this week.
The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is the single most
popular party in Jordan - with strong support in cities, especially among poorer
Palestinians who live there.
Its boycott has reduced the election to a
contest between tribal leaders, establishment figures and businessmen, with just
a few of the 1,500 candidates running for recognized parties. Allegations of
vote-buying are rife.
The result might hand more power to the tribal
figures who are keen on maintaining costly state patronage that serves their
interests but is resented by large parts of the urban poor who feel left out,
politically and economically.
"There are no agendas in candidates'
campaigns. Their campaigns are emotionally driven, and are based more on
personal relationships than they are on constructive programs," said Sheikh
Talal al-Madi, a former senator.
Sparsely populated rural and tribal
constituencies, where pro-government tribes are strong, get a bigger weighting
in parliament than the Palestinian-dominated poor urban constituencies where the
Islamists find their support. Wealthier Palestinians with economic power tend
not to vote.
"This is a sham election whose results will only erode the
credibility of the future parliament," said Zaki Bani Rusheid, deputy head of
the Muslim Brotherhood.
Jordanians are voting amid economic gloom, with
IMF-guided austerity policies that the government was forced to adopt last year
to avoid a fiscal crisis after years of using government money on a bloated
Last November, steep fuel price rises provoked
sometimes violent protests, showing that resentments about the cost of living
and perceived government corruption can bubble up onto the streets in
But in rural areas, like the village of Umm Jimal, near the
border with Syria, there is stiff resistance to the Muslim Brotherhood's call to
change the voting system.
"Our people would not accept in any way that
anyone touches the institutions responsible for the protection of the country
and its stability or security. These issues, they are not even worthy of
discussion," tribal chief Saed Hael Srour said as supporters packed into his
Srour, a prominent lawmaker and former interior minister,
said his constituents opposed the Islamists' demands to reduce the monarchy's
powers or touch the state funds allocated to the security forces which mainly
employs native Jordanians.
In the nearby village of Dafyanah, where most
residents are either state employees or depend on state pensions, there are
concerns about a lack of state jobs.
"I have a son who has not been
working for the last two years and he has become a burden. I knock at government
agencies who say we cannot employ you," said Abu Ahmad, a Bedouin who lives on a
250 dinar ($350) monthly army pension.
With voter apathy in the cities
and the Islamist boycott, turnout among the 2.3 million eligible voters will
test the system that a large chunk of Jordanians feel does not give them a