Jordan votes, but main Islamist party boycotts poll

Wed Jan 23, 2013 3:49pm EST
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By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordanians voted in their first parliamentary election since the Arab uprisings on Wednesday without the participation of the main Islamist party which is demanding an end to official corruption and a louder voice for the urban poor.

The Muslim Brotherhood says the electoral system is rigged to sideline large towns and cities where it is strongest in favour of rural tribal areas where conservative, pro-government political forces are entrenched.

Turnout was 56.5 percent by around 1700 GMT, when polls closed after voting had been extended for an extra hour, officials said, but Islamists accused the authorities of trying to inflate a low turnout to disguise the impact of their boycott. Official results were expected on Thursday.

The Brotherhood's absence has reduced the election to a contest between tribal leaders, establishment figures and businessmen, with just a few of the 1,500 candidates running for recognized parties. Allegations of vote buying are rife.

Jordan, a U.S.-backed monarchy, has seen large protests against corruption that were critical of King Abdullah, though not on the scale of those that toppled rulers in Egypt and Tunisia and led to civil wars in Libya and Syria.

"God willing, these elections will produce a good parliament that will consider the needs of the citizens. We hope this parliament will be better than the previous one," said Iskandar Nuqul, a voter in Amman's first electoral district.

The king remains for many citizens the ultimate guarantor of stability in Jordan, whose neighbors include Israel, civil-war torn Syria, and an Iraq also riven by sectarian strife.

The political elite is wary of the Arab revolts and the rise of Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's most popular party, with its demand for deep political reform.   Continued...

Officials count ballots after polls closed at a polling station in Amman January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Muhammad Hammad (JORDAN - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)