Jordan heads to polls boycotted by Islamic opposition

Jordanians went to the polls on Tuesday in an early general election likely to produce MPs with tribal links and loyal to the government that faces little challenge after the opposition Islamists pulled out.

Last Updated: Nov 09, 2010, 19:05 PM IST

Amman: Jordanians went to the polls on Tuesday in
an early general election likely to produce MPs with tribal
links and loyal to the government that faces little challenge
after the opposition Islamists pulled out.

The polls came as Jordan faces an acute economic crisis
with a record budget deficit of USD two billion and a foreign
debt of USD 11 billion, or nearly 60 per cent of GDP.

Around 2.5 million Jordanians are eligible to vote at
1,492 polling stations, choosing from 763 candidates vying for
a four-year term in the 120-seat lower house of parliament,
with 12 reserved for women.

Nearly 100 candidates are former MPs, and 134 are women.
Polling stations opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and were to
close at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT), while today has been declared a
holiday to encourage people to vote.

"We hope the lower house will represent all Jordanians
and enhance the county`s achievements," Prime Minister Samir
Rifai told reporters after casting his ballot at a school in
Jabal Al-Hussein, near Amman`s city centre.

Rented buses were seen in different parts of Amman
carrying people to vote as dozens queued in lines at polling
stations.

Outside a polling centre in Rabiah, west of the capital,
scores of supporters of candidates gathered to convince people
to elect various hopefuls.

In the mainly Christian city of Madaba close to Amman,
around 30 people were arrested on their way to a polling
station "for carrying knives and axes," police spokesman
Mohammad Khatib said without elaborating.

And in Muqablein area, in Amman`s east, a drunken driver
was arrested after he rammed through a polling centre,
injuring two people, Khatib added.

Pro-government candidates and representatives of tribes
are expected to sweep the polls in the country of 6.3 million
people, as experts fear that an opposition-free parliament
will affect reform.

"The boycott by the Islamists, the main opposition group
in Jordan, means that we are heading for a parliament without
organised opposition," senate president Taher Masri told AFP.

Hamzah Mansur, who heads the powerful Islamic Action
Front (IAF) party which is boycotting the election, said,
"Reform cannot be achieved unless there is real public
pressure by all possible, lawful means."

A survey by the University of Jordan`s Centre for
Strategic Studies showed on Sunday that 44 per cent of 1,791
Jordanians polled said they will vote for pro-government
candidates while 13 per cent said they will vote for tribal
hopefuls and eight per cent for independent Islamists.

PTI