Jordan’s parliamentary elections: Weak voter turnout expected, Islamists threaten to boycott
Jordanians will head to the polling stations next Tuesday (June 17) to elect their representatives for the 14th council amid expectations of a weak turnout in the major cities. The Muslim Brotherhood has also accused the Jordanian government of seeking to ‘fiddle’ with the process and has threatened to boycott the elections.
The Jordanian King Abdullah II dissolved parliament in June 2001, which marked the end of the House’s four-year tenure. The current elections were due in November 2001 but were postponed due to the regional tensions, particularly in Palestine and Iraq.
Tuesday’s elections will be the first parliamentary elections held under the rule of King Abdullah II - who has vowed to guarantee a ‘fair process’.
779 candidates will be competing for 110 seats, a number which has been increased from 80. Six of these seats have been appropriated for women in accordance with an amendment to the interim electoral law, which the Jordanian government passed. The candidates are distributed among 45 electoral districts nationwide, while the number of ballot boxes has reached 4,104 distributed among 1,417 electoral centers. The number of Jordanian citizens eligible for voting has reached 496,325.
The Managing Editor of the Jordanian daily Al Arab al Yawm, Samih al Ma’aytah, expected the participation in the election process to be below average in the key cities and higher in those cities where the tribal links are more predominant. “Participation may be below average to low in the major cities, but should be high in the tribal areas and the countryside due to the strong social ties in those areas.”
Ma’aytah attributed his expectations to the fact that people in the larger cities have negative opinions about parliament, and perhaps are convinced that their vote will not impact the course of their daily life. He noted that candidates who have offered to serve the public have emerged strongly in their campaigning indicating that this might have been due to the government’s encouragement. “The ‘service rhetoric’ has gained legitimacy…perhaps due to the government’s media push in this direction,” said Ma’aytah.
The local paper’s Managing Editor helped draw attention to a large government awareness campaign urging Jordanians to participate in the coming elections and elect those candidates that are willing to serve their interests, concerns and social and economic needs.
When asked about the style of campaigning by Jordanian candidates, Ma’aytah sees the candidates’ slogans as “very traditional with nothing new or fresh. There is repetition as far as certain slogans are concerned and an absence of proper political banners, which is expected under the prevailing circumstances.” The result, he says, “slogans with no grab or appeal.”
As far as the participation of political parties in the elections, Ma’aytah described their presence as nominal, except for the Muslim Brotherhood represented by the Islamic Action Front, which according to him is very present and considered a strong player.
Political parties are running for the elections in two main blocs; the first is the Democratic Reform Camp, which includes leftist and moderate parties, and the second called the National Democratic Camp and includes the various opposition parties excluding the Islamists.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which boycotted the parliamentary elections the last two elections, has now backed away from its decision and has decided to participate in Tuesday’s elections. However, they have also previously threatened to boycott these elections due to what they claim as the government’s intention to ‘fiddle’ with the elections in a way that could ensure defeat for some Islamic candidates.
But Ma’aytah ruled out any such action by the Muslim Brotherhood, as he suggests they would be the ultimate loser. “Boycotting is ruled out,” said Ma’aytah suggesting, “Opposition parties have their own way of criticizing the election process. This kind of rhetoric should be viewed as a form of preventative measure - aimed at deterring the government from any violations of the electoral law. This tactic is very well known and should be expected.”
He added, “should the movement decide to boycott the elections, it will no doubt harm the election environment, but the ultimate loser will be the Islamists as was the case previously. It is not in their own interest to boycott the elections again.”
For his part, the Editor in Chief of the weekly Al Mehwar - Hashem al Khaldi - does not agree with what Ma’aytah says and believes that the Islamist’s threat is a real warning. He does not rule out the possibility of the boycott at the last moment, indicating a previous precedent in this regard. “The threat is a warning to the government against any forgery the Islamists are anticipating and the government considers this as unjustified. I remember when they boycotted the elections in the second largest city in Jordan - Zarqa - on the actual day of voting after suspecting an attempt by the government to forge the elections,” he added.
According to Khaldi’s expectations, the results of the election could go to 25 Islamists and 10-15 from other opposition groups, suggesting that one third of the seats in parliament could go to the opposition.
As for the other two thirds, Khaldi believes that some may win under ‘opposition’ slogans, but the temptations and pressure they will face once they get to parliament could change their political stance.
Khaldi also draws attention to the way MPs choose to differ on slogans and stances before and after the elections, saying “such consequences lead to disappointment amongst voters.” This voter experience he believes is a main reason behind the expected weak voter turnout in the major cities on Tuesday. He added that “most of the previous MP’s did not implement what they promised in their campaigns…there is also resentment among the citizens [towards them] because several MPs sought their personal interests ahead of their voters’, and some went as far as to even decline phone calls from their voters by either closing their mobiles or changing their numbers.”