AMMAN -- Like a trail of ants,
scores of young men walk into a tribal gathering in the village of Mubis, north
of the capital, carrying large trays of the traditional Jordanian lamb and rice
dish called mansaf.
The food precedes an important meeting for the tribes
and their allies to agree on the candidate for this year's municipal elections,
to be held on August 27. More than a thousand municipal council representatives
and 106 mayors are to be elected.
"Mansaf is considered fundamental in
tribal gatherings. It helps soothe the atmosphere and ease tension," joked one
participant as he dug into his hot plate of the stuff.
The polls come at
a difficult time for Jordan, as tribal allegiances take over in a country
flooded by refugees escaping wars in Syria and Iraq. There has also been rising
tension among some of the kingdom's rival tribes.
While Jordan has
escaped the violence and instability that gripped neighbors Syria, Iraq, and
Egypt, there are fears of a spillover into Jordan. The municipal elections can
help unite rival tribes and stabilize the country. The municipalities fuel urban
development, and the choice of mayor is important, especially in the capital
King Abdullah is watching the elections carefully, although has
not interfered. However the Islamist movement has decided to boycott the
elections, saying the election laws are rigged against them. The Islamists are
the main opposition party in Jordan. They have also been weakened by the
overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi in Egypt.
elections are being held in the midst of difficult economic conditions, rising
poverty and unemployment as well as growing tribal tension.
Back at the
tribal gathering, there is a disagreement over a candidate. "Every time
elections approach, we have the same atmosphere. People meet to decide who they
will vote for and everybody in the tribe abides by that choice," said Ebrahem
Salaman, a 49-year-old real estate agent and supporter of one
At this meeting, four candidates have been proposed but no
decision reached yet. As discussions grow more heated voices of the participants
become louder. For now, tribal members appeared to disagree.
the tribe take turns running for the polls, but one big family wants to jump the
queue, which created a problem," Salman told The Media Line. Competence,
however, is not the only factor to consider when choosing nominees.
government and particularly the security forces also have their say on who can
run, and from which tribe," Abdellah Weirekat, a former candidate, told The
The Mubis-style meeting is common in Jordan, where tribal
allegiances have often proven more important than political ideologies or
The tribes have often showed allegiance to the monarchy on
the basis of mutual interest, whereby they obtain important government and army
posts in exchange for supporting the Hashemite throne. Political analyst Noufal
Abu Sbeitan believes the rising influence of the tribes, coupled with widespread
claims of election corruption, played a role in creating growing apathy about
"Voter turnout is almost 25% in our big cities. People don't
trust this process and believe the security agencies continue to control the
election's outcome," Sbeitan told The Media Line.
Figures from the
previous election in 2010, however, show that turnout in rural towns and
villages – where tribes are influential – reached more than 60 percent, he
Successive governments have been widely accused of rigging
municipal and parliamentary elections to favor supporters from the tribal
community. Many Jordanians believe the entire process to be corrupt.
Bani Amar, president of the civil alliance to monitor elections, said tens of
thousands of fake identification cards are believed to be in the hands of
candidates and their supporters.
He said the government must use ink to
mark voters after they cast their ballots to help prevent against fraud. "We are
facing the high possibility that the election fraud in 2007 and 2010 could be
repeated this year. During those elections some individuals had more than 50 ID
cards that showed the same face but a different name. Those people would move
from one polling station to another to vote for the same candidate," Bani Amar
Interior and Municipal Affairs Minister Hussein Al-Majali told
a recent press conference that the government will not use ink as a way of
reducing the cost of holding the polls.
Using those identification
systems would cost the cash-strapped government $70 million, while it has
allocated only $7million for the polls. Most analysts believe tribal candidates
will dominate the elections.
"Tribes have proven to be strong. They also
have the support of the authorities, who send the army to vote for their
allies," a Western diplomat told The Media Line.
A total of 3,000
candidates will be running for a spot on the municipal councils, including 500
In fact with less than three weeks before the polling begins, 68
women have already been announced as members of the new councils because of the
quota system which allows them to run unopposed. Women candidates see their
participation in municipal elections as a step in the right
"The society is not ready to accept women as partners in the
political process," Samya Al Mubarak, a woman candidate for a spot on the Balqa
governorate's municipal council, told The Media Line. "It is up to us to show
them we can make a difference."For more stories from
The Media Line go to www.themedialine.org