(photo credit: Associated Press)
Jordan (AP) — Jordanians lined up to cast ballots for a new parliament Tuesday in a vote that was dominated by anger at Israel over stalled peace talks and widespread frustration over an economic crisis in the U.S.-allied kingdom.
A boycott by the largest opposition group, the fundamentalist Islamic Action Front, made it likely that pro-government politicians and tribesmen with strong ties to the king — who has the final say on all matters — would sweep the vote.
That means that any criticism from the new parliament over King Abdullah's pro-Western policies or pressure from lawmakers for a tougher stance with Israel would likely only be cosmetic.
Many voters expressed skepticism that the new legislature would be able to create needed jobs or alleviate growing poverty despite colorful banners and campaign posters promising improvements. "Putting food on the table is our national priority," read one.
Jordan was among the hardest hit of the Arab nations during the global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009. The country relies heavily on foreign investments and remittances from workers abroad and foreign aid — all of which were affected during the financial crisis.
"Jordanians are interested in the elections and politics, but the main concern — especially among poor families — is to feed their hungry children," said economist Hani Horani, pointing to an unemployment rate estimated at 13.3 percent, poverty at 16 percent, inflation at 4.5 percent and a growth rate projected at 2 percent this year.
Amman clothing shop clerk Mohammed Dallal, 40, said he wasn't voting because he was "fed up with lawmakers lying to us. They promise us things, but when they get to parliament, they forget."
Anti-government candidates also charged that Jordan is not showing enough opposition to Israeli policies amid fears that if Israeli-Palestinian peace talks fail, Israel could try to expel the 2.5 million Palestinians from the West Bank into Jordan.
Islamists boycotted Tuesday's vote over a new election law they claim has devalued votes in cities, where Islamic groups are traditionally strong. Nearly 80 percent of Jordanians live in urban areas, according to a CIA survey, but support for the king comes mostly from desert regions.
Seven members of the Islamic Action Front, which commanded six seats in the previous parliament, challenged the party's boycott and were running as independents. No figures were available on how many candidates the front had planned to field this year.
"The election law has sidelined all the vocal critics of the government," said Jamil Abu-Bakr, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front's umbrella group. "The election is far from being fair and honest, considering reports of fraud we're hearing."