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Tuesday Nov. 9, 2010 1:37 PM (EST+7)
Jordan votes in poll boycotted by Islamists

Read more: Jordan, Islamists, Muslim Brotherhood, election, vote, parliament, democracy, rights

AMMAN, Nov 9 (Suleiman al-Khalidi/Reuters) - Jordanians voted on Tuesday in a parliamentary election boycotted by the influential Muslim Brotherhood and liberal groups in protest at an election law they say erodes democracy.

Analysts expect the poll to produce a compliant parliament ready to support tough economic policies put forward by the government -- which is appointed by King Abdullah -- aimed at spurring growth and cutting a record $2 billion budget deficit.

A dozen voters queued up in the Bedouin district of Mafraq before polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT). In another part of Amman, at the Wihdat camp for Palestinian refugees, candidates brought in dozens of supporters by bus.

Government officials have promised the elections will be free, fair and open to diplomatic and international observers, and warned the opposition they were in no position to criticise a process they pulled out of months ago.

Those who don't vote will not be participating with others in shaping their country's future, Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai told state television after casting his vote in Amman.

Jordan is trying to cut its deficit to 1.06 billion dinars ($1.5 billion) next year and is targeting five percent economic growth, still below levels before the global financial crisis.

Jordanians worry that a weak parliament might acquiesce in a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict that abandons any right of return for Palestinians and force a permanent settlement in Jordan of many citizens of Palestinian origin.


Optimism about reforms after King Abdullah dissolved parliament last year was dashed when the government he appointed maintained an unpopular law which critics say will ensure a pliant assembly after Tuesday's vote.

The electoral system sharply under-represents large cities that are Islamist and Palestinian strongholds in favour of sparsely populated areas dominated by conservative tribes who defer to the monarchy and traditional systems of law.

We want a fair law that gives an equal opportunity for all Jordanians, said Sheikh Hamza Mansour, head of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The distribution of constituencies means a vote cast in the crowded capital Amman carries only a quarter of the weight of one cast in the desert town of Maan.

Officials said they expected a high turnout among the 2.7 million eligible voters. But boycotting parties and independent analysts forecast the lowest turnout since Jordan revived parliamentary elections in 1989.

The Islamic Action Front, small opposition parties and a number of prominent independent figures pulled out in protest at what they say has been the steady weakening of parliament by successive governments.

Their boycott has left the field open to independent candidates drawing support from strong tribal and family links.

I am coming to endorse my cousin whom I believe is worthy of his tribes vote, said Salem al-Zubi, registering support for independent candidate Walid Zubi in the northern city of Irbid.

Few of the 763 candidates standing for 120 parliamentary seats have raised national concerns in their campaigns.

Officials dismissed charges that the boycott, which left less than a seventh of candidates campaigning under any recognised party banner, would result in a parliament packed with pro-government deputies.

The next parliament will represent the will of Jordanians. It will be a strong parliament and cooperate with the government to overcome the challenges and attain the aspirations of Jordanians, Rifai said. (Writing Suleiman al-Khalidi; editing by David Stamp)







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