The preliminary results of Jordan’s local elections, which were held on Aug. 27, showed that tribal candidates and businessmen who are loyal to the government took the majority of seats in the local councils of the 12 provinces. The elections were held amid a boycott by the Islamist opposition, and low participation among leftist and nationalist parties that lost in the elections.
The last local elections took place six years ago. This most recent election day was characterized by low turnout and unofficial violations, such as vote-buying, the use of firearms in acts of violence, the burning of government institutions, the closure of polling stations and the theft of ballot boxes by some candidates’ supporters.
Experts said that the difficult economic situation, burdens exacerbated by the presence of nearly half a million Syrian refugees in the kingdom, talk about potential international action against the neighboring regime in Damascus and the visit of senior commanders of the world’s armies to Amman to discuss their future movement regarding Syria, made the elections a very “tepid” milestone.
Yet Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said in a remarkable statement after casting his ballot in his hometown, the tribal majority city of Salt (northwest of Amman): “Jordan is heading to the ballot boxes, participating in the democratic process and voting. [We are achieving] change through polls, not through bullets or bloodshed,” in a reference to what Arab spring countries have witnessed.
Ensour said that conducting elections under hard regional times “is an unprecedented achievement of the Jordanian state.” He added, “In the midst of the terrible situation in the Middle East, elections were held twice this year in Jordan,” in a reference to the parliamentary elections that were held in January. Ensour said that 4,200 local and international observers “supervised the elections.”
Director General of Jordanian Civil Defense Maj. Gen. Tala Kofahi announced that 50,000 policemen and gendarmes were deployed in all Jordanian provinces to protect the polling stations and electoral process “from any transgression against the law and acts that affect the elections’ results.”
According to the final results that were revealed yesterday [Aug. 28], voter turnout was around 30%. In the capital Amman, only 139,000 out of 1,345,000 eligible voters headed to the polls. This makes the voter turnout there less than 10.5%. Nearly 2.5 million voters were called to participate in the elections, to choose a hundred local council heads and 970 members, out of 2,811 candidates across the country.
Ahed Ziadat, a spokesman for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, said in a news conference yesterday that “the turnout was low this year compared to the 2007 elections, where the voter turnout reached 50%.”
Islamists said that they boycotted the elections “because there is no real will for change, despite the repeated reform promises.”
The Civil Coalition for Monitoring the Jordanian Elections (RASED) said that acts of violence “took place in several polling stations, and many problems came about due to polling centers not using election ink.”
Jordan’s southern areas witnessed clearer violations, as voters attacked polling stations, stole ballot boxes that contained election papers and burned government institutions to protest the results.
RASED demanded elections be re-held in areas that witnessed these problems, chief among them being the villages and towns in al-Karak. Rana Sabbagh, a journalist and member of RASED, said, “We observed more than 300 violations, ranging from fights to logistic violations.” She added that the results in the areas of the fights “do not reflect the voters’ will, and the turnout in the kingdom amounted to only 20% by 5 p.m.,” which contradicts what the government had announced.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 5 p.m.. Yet, In Amman, Zarqa and Irbid voting was extended by two hours, where the voter turnout was markedly low.