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Polls open in Jordan elections, boycotted by Muslim Brotherhood

January 23, 2013

Jordanian heads of electoral halls transport their ballot boxes at a public school used as a temporary vote counting center in Amman January 22, 2013. — Reuters Photo

AMMAN: Polling stations opened on Wednesday in Jordanian elections, which have been boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The party says the electoral system is rigged in favour of tribal areas and against the large urban centres.

Eyewitnesses reported queues of about a dozen people apiece at several polling stations across the kingdom just before the polls opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT).

The boycott by the Muslim Brotherhood followed strident pro-reform protests, when they already labelled as illegitimate what is expected to be an opposition-free parliament.

The Arab Spring movement that began two years ago and toppled four regimes across the region also sparked regular protests in Jordan, where a combination of youth and religious parties have been demanding sweeping political and economic reforms.

Their protests have become increasingly vocal and, during deadly November rioting over a sharp hike in fuel prices, there were unprecedented calls from some quarters for King Abdullah II to step down.

The monarch, whose throne is not seriously thought to be under threat, is hoping that Wednesday's polls will produce a new crop of strong MPs who will work efficiently to jump start reform.

But analysts say tribal leaders and other pro-regime figures, along with independent businessmen, are expected to sweep the polls in the country of 6.8 million people.

The National Reform Front of former premier and intelligence chief Ahmad Obeidat is also staying away from the polls, which opened for 12 hours from 7:00 am (0400 GMT).

But the election “will add to problems instead of solving them, particularly under the boycott. We will see a parliament that does not have political weight”, analyst Oraib Rintawi, the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies head, told AFP.

The king has said that he plans for the first time to consult with MPs before naming prime ministers, insisting on Jordan's need to create strong political parties to help pave the way for parliamentary governments.

The Muslim Brotherhood, however, says there is no real will to reform.

“Our boycott was the right decision because a parliament or government that is imposed on people is illegitimate,” said Zaki Bani Rasheid, the party's deputy leader.

The polls come as Jordan faces acute economic problems, including a $5 billion budget deficit, and challenges in coping with more than 300,000 Syrian refugees who have fled their war-torn country.

Unemployment in the poor desert kingdom officially stands at 14 percent, but non-governmental sources put the figure as high as 30 percent, and a majority of the country's youth are without jobs.

King Abdullah has urged people to take part, calling the boycott “a tremendous miscalculation”, and Wednesday has been declared a national holiday to encourage the 2.3 million registered voters to turn out.

Those who do turn out at the 1,484 polling stations will choose from 1,425 candidates, including around 140 former MPs and 191 women contesting 150 seats in parliament's lower house.

Some 47,000 police are being deployed to provide security.