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Jordanians vote for mayors for first time in polls hailed part of reforms

Jordanians vote for mayors for first time in polls hailed part of reforms

Jordan's largest Muslim opposition group withdrew from the country's first ever elections for city mayors on Tuesday, marring a vote the government has touted as an important democratic reform.
The move by the fundamentalist Islamic Action Front signaled the party could be breaking away from traditionally cordial relations with the government to boost its position ahead of parliament elections later this year, possibly by capitalizing on popular disenchantment with the state's failure to speed up reforms.
Several hours into the voting Tuesday, the IAF abruptly announced it was pulling its 90 candidates from the race and accused the government of poll rigging by allegedly allowing multiple voting by some military personnel. The IAF had already claimed Monday the state planned to have pro-government voters vote several times, but offered no proof.
"We can no longer take part in this farce and we announce the withdrawal of all our candidates from all governorates," said the IAF, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement _ a licensed political party, which commands 17 seats in the 110-member parliament.
IAF's leader Hamza Mansour said the party may also boycott parliamentary elections in November. "We wanted to stay out of our commitment for democracy, but we've had enough. This democratic folly has turned into a huge national tragedy," he said.
IAF's pullout could also be seen to mirror the militant Hamas' confrontation with the Palestinian Authority, according to former deputy prime minister Ayman Majali.
"But they don't have that much popular base here, and even if they boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections, they'll be the losers," Majali said.
Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit dismissed IAF's timing of the pullout as "illegal," but did not comment on the fraud allegations. Government spokesman Nasser Judeh accused the IAF of trying to "target Jordan's reputation" ahead of the legislative elections.
Unlike Islamist groups in Egypt and Tunisia with a track record of violent confrontation with the authorities, the IAF has been a peaceful political force and has practiced charity work through its network of banks, hospitals and schools here.
In 1989, it won almost half of the parliamentary seats in the first elections that Jordan held in more than 22 years. But IAF soon lost much of its clout because it failed to deliver on promises to improve key issues troubling Jordanians, including rampant unemployment and poverty.
Its popularity slipped further when IAF Cabinet members in 1991 focused on trivial topics such as banning co-ed sports, alcohol and pushed for women to wear the veil.
Despite advocating different policies from the Jordanian monarch, IAF has remained largely loyal to King Abdullah, who claims ancestry to the revered prophet Muhammed. But it has criticized the establishment and boycotted voting in the past.
In 1995, the party accused the government of vote rigging in municipal elections after it was overpowered by independent candidates and tribal leaders loyal to the late king Hussein, Abdullah's father.
In 1997, it boycotted general parliamentary elections to protest the "lack of democratic progress" and a then-controversial election law.
The IAF opposes Jordan's 1994 peace treaty with Israel and Abdullah's close ties with the United States. It also disagrees with the king's economic policy of openness to world markets and global trading blocs _ a threat it regards as Western domination.
In the run-up to Tuesday's municipal elections, nine IAF members were arrested last month on suspicion of setting up armed militias with the aim of destabilizing the kingdom. The government denied IAF's claim that the arrests meant to undermine the party ahead of the elections.
Tuesday's election was the first time Jordanians were directly choosing their mayors, previously appointed by the king. Jordan's 1.9 million eligible voters were also electing all members of their municipal councils, choosing from among 2,325 candidates for the 1,022 seats. Earlier, the king appointed half the members.
Also, under a new system, Jordan has lowered voting age by one year to the age of 18, to allow greater participation, and 20 percent of council seats were allotted to women _ in contrast to the 2003 vote when only five women were selected.
Abdullah touted the municipal polls as part of democratic reforms.
However, in Amman, voters were electing only half of the capital's 68-member municipal council while the king was still to appoint the other half, along with the mayor _ an apparent concern over IAF's strong following among the poor in the capital, home to the Cabinet and government institutions.
Polls closed at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT), with the government expecting the turnout to exceed 50 percent in several provinces. Overall turnout was not yet announced.
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Associated Press reporters Mohammed al-Hadid, Shafika Mattar and Dale Gavlak contributed to this story.


Updated : 2021-10-16 07:38 GMT+08:00