Amman / AFP
Jordanians voted on Tuesday in an election that could see opposition Islamists re-emerge as a major parliamentary force in the key Western ally.
The focus will be on turnout and the performance of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Experts expect the party to clinch around 20 seats in the 130-seat parliament, which would make it the largest opposition force.
The vote comes as Jordan wrestles with the spillover of wars in neighbouring Syria and Iraq and the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees.
The kingdom is a member of the US-led coalition battling extremists in both neighbouring countries and was the target of a June 21 suicide bombing claimed by the IS group that killed seven border guards.
The Phenix Center, a local pollster, has said 42 percent of eligible voters planned not to take part in the election, reflecting a general lack of enthusiasm for a parliament with limited powers to affect government policy.
In Jordan, King Abdullah II can appoint and sack military and intelligence chiefs, senior judges and members of parliament’s upper house without government approval.
By midday nearly 600,000 of the 4.1 million registered voters had cast a ballot, the electoral commission said. In the last election in 2013, just over 1.2 million voted.
The Islamist-led opposition welcomed the early turnout but complained of “several” irregularities, including vote buying, which it said had taken place openly outside polling stations. The electoral commission said it was investigating the allegation, which has been a common complaint in past elections.
The interior ministry said 50,000 policemen had been mobilised to ensure security at polling stations.
“Some minor incidents have been reported from some areas, like clashes between supporters of rival candidates and shots in the air outside one polling station,” national security director General Atef al-Saudi told a news conference.
The authorities pride themselves on holding elections in a region wracked by conflict since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.
The polls were monitored by 14,000 local observers and 676 from abroad, including 66 sent by the European Union.
“We in Jordan are proud of the fact that we have recourse to the ballot box and dialogue through elections at a time when you hear only the sound of gunfire in several countries in the region,” government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said.
A total of 1,252 candidates were standing for the 130 seats in parliament.
Seats have been set aside for 15 women, nine Christians and three representatives of the Circassian and Chechen minorities.
Businessmen and tribal officials loyal to the monarchy are expected to emerge the biggest winners.
The Islamists boycotted polls in 2010 and 2013 in protest at the electoral system and allegations of fraud.
The system gives disproportionate clout to rural districts, which tend to return tribal candidates loyal to the monarchy.
The Islamists — weakened by internal divisions and repression — announced in June they would take part after the electoral law was amended.
The authorities have amended the law to allow political parties to run lists, rather than a “single vote” system that benefited tribal candidates.
Voters questioned by AFP said they were doing so in the hope that this election would see change.
“I’ve been voting for decades and just hope it’ll be different this time round.” said Abdessalam Abu al-Haj, 75.
Saja Asaf, a veiled 20-year-old who said she was voting for the first time, said she hoped the new parliament would tackle unemployment.
“Most young people can’t find work when they leave university,” she said.
Unemployment has reached 14 percent, according to official figures, while independent analysts estimate the figure is between 22 and 30 percent, in a country where 70 percent of the population is aged under 30.
Polls were scheduled to close at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT).
Electoral commission chief Khaled Kalalda gave no specific time for the result, saying only that the count would take “several hours”.