Jordan gears up for parliamentary elections

Absence of Islamists from ballot stirs conflict over vote; activists bemoan the fact candidates are not competent.

Man votes in Amman 390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Man votes in Amman 390
(photo credit: Reuters)
AMMAN, JORDAN - Campaigning for Jordan's parliamentary elections kicked off this week with tribesmen, former army generals and businesspersons rushing to join the race.
Early surveys predict less than a 50 percent voter turn-out due to growing anger against government policies and the absence of major opposition parties, including the Islamist movement, on the list of candidates.
Cities and towns across the kingdom are awash with campaign material as parties appeal to the emotions and needs of citizens from all social backgrounds.
The national election committee on Tuesday announced final figures of registered candidates for the January 23 polls. It included 820 men and women and 60 joint tickets competing for the 150 seats.
Observers said candidates are doing whatever they could to attract voters. One of the joint tickets was named after former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is very popular in many parts of the kingdom and whose name is associated in Jordan with strict justice and an unwavering stance against corruption and injustice.
Despite the colorful images, candidates were seen as dull and repetitive in their appeals to voters. "It is a contest of rhetoric rather than content," analyst Jehad al Mansi told The Media Line.
Placards and slogans randomly stuck on walls of public and private buildings, major roundabouts and crossroads, lampposts and traffic lights, plainly echoed issues raised during the 2010 elections, a year before the Arab Spring that toppled several authoritarian regimes over corruption, poverty and lack of personal freedom.
Some of the eye-catching slogans included: "Your vote is a responsibility," "Be responsible," "Cast your vote for the voice of justice," "No good nation without good parliament" and "Make your voice heard in parliament."
Jordan was one of the countries swept with nationwide turmoil last year, inspired by protests in Tunisia and Egypt, but demands fell short of calling for King Abdullah's removal. Instead, opposition parties called for reforms that included cutting the king's political power, including his ability to control parliament and formation of Jordanian governments.
"Let us not forget that most of those candidates come from the army, the business community or figures approved by their tribes and allied to the regime," youth activist Abdullah Auran told The Media Line.
"Candidates are not competent, which means an inept parliament. The regime wants it that way otherwise the parliament will cause trouble," he said.
Critics of the elections law said the legislation was tailored to favor candidates from small towns and tribal-based areas. They said the law tips the balance of power in favor of independent candidates and small towns inhabited by east bank Jordanians. This weakens political parties and major population centers, where Jordanians of Palestinian origin live and have significant voting power.
Political analyst Usama Rantisi said the majority of candidates have been less than impressive in their early campaigning.
"I have been following flamboyant slogans of candidates, including former MPs who were less than impressive and even marginal in the last parliament. They are the same people who did not question the government about any single issue," he told The Media Line.
One slogan called to "Eradicate corruption and nepotism and end unemployment in districts of candidates." Others urged: "Let us build a modern nation," and "Together we overcome corruption."
"I hope that candidates improve their campaigning and adopt realistic programs in all sectors under specific timetables," Rantisi added.
Government critics said most candidates are either pro-regime figures or independents seeking popularity or representatives of lobby groups and business alliances seeking protection of their interests. 
Observers point out that some vocal anti-government figures were barred from running in the elections, while others declined to take part amid concern over vote-rigging.
Meanwhile, the Islamist movement vowed to continue street protests in the run-up to the elections. The elections will be held  without any candidates from  the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and the kingdom's main opposition group, as well as several leftist parties and youth groups.
The IAF plans to hold a protest of 100,000 people next month in a show of power and to pressure authorities to cancel the elections.
"It would be much better for authorities to call the elections off. This is a travesty," IAF Secretary-General Hamzah Mansour told The Media Line. "The majority of the people do not approve of the elections and tension will only rise."
But the government insists the wide number of candidates and registered voters are early indicators that the elections will proceed smoothly.
"The elections have attracted a large part of the Jordanians. It is up to the Islamist movement to participate or boycott, but they are the losers," government spokesman Sameeh Maytah told told The Media Line, arguing that opposition groups can realize their ambitions of reform through the parliament, not via street protests.
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