Jordanians vote for new parliament without surprise

By Xinhua

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Amman : Jordanians are holding parliamentary elections on Tuesday, lining up to cast ballots in polling stations across the kingdom.

In the capital Amman, national flags, pictures of candidates, campaign banners and notices are hung and pasted all over the wall along side the main roads.

Around 1528 polling stations in 45 electorates across the country opened from 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) Tuesday until 7 p.m.(1700GMT).

Nearly 2.5 million voters from all 20 govern orates will choose the new 110-seat lower house of the parliament from about 885 candidates, including 199 women, who are vying for a four-year term.

A Jordanian woman, who only gave her name as Hamed, told Xinhua after casting her ballot that she was glad to see there are so many women candidates in the elections, adding that in the last polls in 2003, there were only 54 women candidates.

However, she said that when making decision to cast the ballot, she would chose the one whose political opinion is more reasonable and persuasive, taking no care about whether the candidate is a male or a female.

Outside one of the poll stations in Amman, some students are sending out pamphlets to help the candidates put the final touches on their month-long campaigns, while in the polling rooms, hundreds people were waiting to cast their ballots one by one quietly and peacefully.

According to the authorities, about 40,000 policemen were already deployed across the kingdom to prevent any problems and ensure a smooth process.

Officials have expected that at least 60 percent of the eligible voters would turn out to cast their ballots.

To encourage participation, the government declared Tuesday a holiday, and the government and civil society institutions have also launched campaigns targeting high turnout, especially among the youth.

The government hopes that “all citizens will exercise their national duty by casting their votes on election day to form a Parliament capable of partnering with the government to face the Kingdom’s challenges,” said the government spokesperson Nasser Judeh on Sunday.

“The various government institutions have completed the necessary arrangements to ensure free and fair parliamentary elections,” he added.

Although the Jordanian government underlined that it is determined to hold “transparent and free parliamentary elections”, there are is doubt on the integrity of the poll.

In a letter to Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit, the IAF Secretary General Zaki Bani Ershaid Sunday accused the government of committing a “number of violations” that would impair integrity of the polling process.

He charged that the electronic linkup of all polling centers which the government said was adopting for the first time “will not guarantee the absence of double voting” by citizens and cited the government’s failure to provide candidates with names of the electorate and “interference by security bodies” in arrangements for the ballots.

Earlier this month, 15 non-government bodies said they would drop a plan to monitor the parliamentary elections because they “cannot report on the credibility of elections when civil groups are not permitted to observe vote casting and ballot counting.”

“The government insists that our role is restricted to following up on the polls, not proper observation, which means our teams will have no access to polling centers. We cannot be involved in the process under the circumstances,” said a statement distributed to reporters by the Arab Organization for Human Rights, one of the15 non-government bodies.

However, after the mediation by the National Center for Human Rights (NCHR), the NGOs finally agreed to “observe and follow”, rather than “monitor”, the parliamentary polls.

The NGOs will carry out their mission to “follow and observe today’s election despite a decision by the government not to allow observers into the polling halls,” said the commissioner of NCHR Shaher Bak.

In fact, Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with representative government. The reigning monarch is the head of state, the chief executive and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, while the parliament has “limited power”.

The Legislative powers are shared by the king and parliament, which is comprised of the 55-member Upper House of Notables (Majlis al-A’yan), or Senator, and the 110-member Lower House of Deputies (Majlis al-Nuwwab).

While senators are appointed by the King, deputies of the lower house are directly elected by universal suffrage.

Unlike most democratic countries in the world, the elected members of the parliament do not form the government: this right remains within the grip of the king, also in accordance with the constitution.

The house has a clear mandate: to endorse legislation and international agreements and to scrutinize the activities of the executive authority.

Most of its members were independent figures emerging from the business community or former army generals, most of whom were loyal to the government.

As to the outcome of the elections, some of the voters and observers believe there would be little surprise. The elections will produce a “carbon copy” of the current parliament as the results of more than 78 percent of the seats in the next parliament is very obvious even one week before the voting day, they said.

Independents, mainly representatives of tribes and families loyal to the royal family, are expected to sweep the polls in the desert country of six million people, the analysts said.

The country’s largest political opposition party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), is fielding 22 candidates who cluster in Amman and other major cities, 10 candidates less than the number of IAF nominees in previous polls.

IAF, the political wing of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, held 17 seats in parliament before this voting.

There are also some other political parties choosing to support six candidates, which was called by some observers here as just a “symbolic gesture”. The scene seems mainly dominated by tribal candidates and independents, they said.

When asked about her expectation, Hamed said “I think the new parliament would do the similar job as the previous one did, because most people in the two parliaments will be the same.”