Tribal chiefs, king’s loyalists win Jordan vote

AFP-JIJI

Tribal leaders, regime loyalists and independent businessmen are set to sweep Jordan’s parliamentary election, which was shunned by Islamists, preliminary results showed Thursday.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said the results will become official once they are published in the official gazette, which is expected next week.

Analysts said the new Parliament will be dominated by loyalists resistant to pressure for political reform. And two U.S. organizations that observed Wednesday’s poll agreed that local loyalties would pose a challenge to plans by King Abdullah II for a parliamentary government.

The Arab Spring uprisings that began two years ago and toppled four regimes across northern Africa also sparked regular protests in Jordan, where a combination of youths and Islamists have been demanding sweeping reforms. Their protests have become increasingly vocal and, during deadly November rioting over a sharp hike in fuel prices, there were unprecedented calls for the king to step down.

Abdullah, whose throne is not thought to be under threat, had touted the election as a focal point for his reforms, which he said should pave the way for parliamentary government. He said his reform plans include consulting members of Parliament before naming a prime minister, who should in turn then consult with lawmakers before forming a Cabinet.

But the Muslim Brotherhood boycotted the election, saying the monarch’s measures fell far short of true democratic change and arguing he should not have any say in naming a prime minister.

The IEC announced a 56.6 percent turnout of Jordan’s 2.3 million registered voters, although the Brotherhood disputes this figure.

“Vote-buying and fake voter cards were very clear. We will prove that our boycott was the right decision,” Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy leader of the Brotherhood, said. But the IEC insisted its figures were accurate.

The results showed that independent candidate Maryam Luzi won a seat outside the quota system, which reserved 15 seats for women. Also among the winners were two women from the capital, Amman.

The U.S. organizations that observed the polls warned of difficulties ahead, with the National Democratic Institute saying, “The unequal size of districts and an electoral system that amplifies family, tribal and national cleavages limit the development of a truly national legislative body and challenge the king’s stated aim of encouraging ‘full parliamentary government.’ “

The International Republican Institute said, “Tribal allegiances continue to be the major factor in candidate selection and campaigning.”

At least three candidates accused by the authorities of vote-buying appeared to have won seats. Their cases are still before the courts and if found guilty, they will forfeit them and face several years in jail.

“The Islamists got a slap in the face when it comes to turnout, which was good. But that’s not all — Parliament faces huge challenges,” said Mohammed Abu Rumman, a researcher at the University of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies. “It will be weak because it will have many MPs who served in past parliaments, as well as businessmen who used their money to win. These two groups do not have a clear agenda for change.”