Pro-government forces grab majority in Jordan vote
AMMAN, Jordan – Loyalists of King Abdullah II won a majority of seats in Jordan's next parliament, according to official results from an election that the Islamist opposition boycotted in protest of electoral laws they said were unfair.
While the outcome announced Wednesday ensured Abdullah will encounter little opposition in the legislature, there were signs of growing unrest on the streets as more Jordanians grapple with poverty and increasingly come to resent the government's failure to confront Israel more forcefully over stalled Mideast peace efforts.
There were 53 violent incidents across the country during Tuesday's voting, including the killing of a 25-year-old man in a shootout between supporters of rival candidates, said police chief Maj. Gen. Hussein Majali. In the capital, Amman, police had to use tear gas to disperse crowds of clashing political rivals.
Among the winners were 20 former Cabinet ministers and around 80 first-time parliamentarians — including businessmen and those described as political progressives — from Bedouin tribal families that form the bedrock of support for Abdullah. They are likely to steer a pro-government course in the 120-seat legislature.
"These are not new lawmakers; they're Cabinet ministers, relatives of government officials or people the state wanted to win," said 23-year-old street vendor Subhi Abu Hamad, reflecting the widespread pessimism that the vote would bring change.
Jordan's flagging economy, the crawling pace of political reforms and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace effort were some of the main campaign issues.
"The new deputies should work hard to improve the economy and help the poor find jobs to feed their children," said 39-year-old Amman bookkeeper Nasser Khalayleh.
Other voters were doubtful of change.
"The new lawmakers are like the previous ones; they're all the same and they will not do anything for the people," said high school teacher Khaled Rousan, 35.
The new parliament will help Abdullah keep a steady course on his central foreign policy goals: continuing his strong alliance with the United States and limiting criticism of Israel.
Among Jordan's public and the Islamist opposition there is a great deal of anger toward the Jewish state, which they accuse of dragging its feet in peace talks with the Palestinians.
About half of Jordan's 6 million people are of Palestinian families, who loathe Israel and blame it for displacing them in two Mideast wars since 1948.
The main opposition force, the Islamic Action Front, boycotted the election to protest an electoral law it said gave less weight to votes cast in areas where it has the most support. Only one of its candidates, Ahmed Qudah — who went against the boycott and ran as an independent — won a seat in the new parliament.
The group had six seats in the previous parliament, its power far reduced from the majority it last held in 1989.
Front leader Hamza Mansour said the new parliament is "worse than the last one because many won through their family connections and by spending money to buy votes that could have been given to the poor."
He accused electoral officials of inflating turnout figures.
While overall turnout was given at about 53 percent of Jordan's eligible electorate of 2.4 million people, it was just 34 percent in the capital. That reflected both apathy and the boycott calls by Islamist politicians, who have more support in urban areas.
The U.S.-government funded International Republican Institute, which had 24 observers in Jordan monitoring the polls, described the elections as "credible" and a "significant step forward for the Middle East."
Reem Badran, who once headed the state investment promotion board, captured the highest number of votes in her Amman district, giving parliament 13 female lawmakers, one more than the state-set quota for women. Badran is the daughter of a former prime minister and intelligence chief.
It was the fourth election under Abdullah, a key U.S. ally who ascended to the throne in 1999 vowing to transform his desert Arab kingdom into a model democracy in the Muslim world.
But his reforms have been slow, as Jordan tries to limit Islamist influence, concerned over the rising power of Islamic militant groups in the region, like the Palestinian Hamas.