Tribal movement wins Jordan vote, Islamists to protest

AMMAN Thu Jan 24, 2013 9:49am EST

Officials count ballots after polls closed at a polling station in Amman January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Muhammad Hammad

Officials count ballots after polls closed at a polling station in Amman January 23, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Muhammad Hammad

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Pro-government candidates strengthened their hold on Jordan's parliament after an election on Wednesday boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood-led opposition, which said the ballot was biased against it.

State television said on Thursday that most of the 150 seats contested were won by independents, candidates with limited political agendas who rely on family and tribal allegiances rather than party backing.

The growth of tribalism as a political force in Jordan has blunted the emergence of national parties and curbed the influence of the Brotherhood - whose deputy leader said it would press on with street protests "to achieve the reforms we want."

A U.S.-backed monarchy, the country has seen major Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations against corruption that were critical of King Abdullah, though not on the scale of those that toppled rulers in Egypt and Tunisia and led to civil wars in Libya and Syria.

The protesters have focused on reforming government and limiting King Abdullah's powers rather than ousting him.

The Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing in Jordan and the country's largest opposition party, shunned the election because it said the electoral law was designed to curb its influence.

The deputy head of the Brotherhood, Zaki Bani Rusheid, said the new parliament was no different from previous rubber-stamp assemblies packed by government loyalists.

"This assembly has the same credentials of the previous one in its weakness and lack of will in practicing its constitutional role in legislation and making governments accountable,' Bani Rusheid told Reuters.

"The biggest absentee was the will of the people. The disappointment with the assembly will be quick and faster than people expect."

Turnout for Wednesday's vote was 56 percent of the country's 2.3 million registered voters, according to officials.

Among those who retained their seats on Wednesday were elder tribal politicians Abdul Hadi al-Majli and Abdul Karim al-Dughmi - both former parliamentary speakers.

TOWN VERSUS COUNTRY

The Islamic Action Front said last year it would boycott the polls after the tribal-dominated parliament passed a electoral law that magnified the clout of native Jordanian constituencies at the expense of cities.

Urban areas are home to many citizens of Palestinian origin and which tend to be Islamist strongholds.

The Islamists say only a fraction of Jordan's eligible voters cast their ballots and that another 2.4 million eligible voters did not register to vote on Wednesday in Jordan's first parliamentary election since the Arab uprisings.

Islamists draw more support in the densely populated cities, where most of the country's 7 million population live, and voting is more along political and ideological lines.

In the major cities, including the capital, all strongholds of the country's most organized political grouping, turnout figures averaged around 40 percent. In sparsely populated rural and Bedouin areas it was more than 70 percent.

Officials say the elections were a milestone in democratic reforms espoused by King Abdullah and that the opposition had misjudged the popular mood, saying many voters had shunned the opposition's boycott call.

They also dismiss talk the new assembly will give an easy ride to any government and say there were many voices of dissent among those elected while fraud-free elections had restored parliament's credibility in the public perception.

"The results show we have gone a long way in creating confidence in the electoral process," said Abdulillah al-Khatib, the head of the electoral commission that oversaw the polls.

King Abdullah will for the first time consult the new parliament when he picks a government as part of constitutional changes devolving his prerogatives to parliament which critics said had been sidelined. The monarch appoints prime ministers.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour's imminent resignation would be followed by the monarch asking him to stay on as caretaker premier until a new government is chosen after the new assembly convenes in mid-February.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Jon Boyle, John Stonestreet)

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