Jordanians not enthused by forthcoming elections

There are many obstacles to the polls scheduled for November 10, notably an increase in the number of coronavirus infections and the ongoing failure of the previous representatives to enact reforms encouraging Jordanian voters to cast ballots.
Thursday 05/11/2020
Cars advance on a road lined with campaign banners and slogans of candidates for the upcoming Jordanian parliamentary elections in the capital Amman, on November 3. (AFP)
Cars advance on a road lined with campaign banners and slogans of candidates for the upcoming Jordanian parliamentary elections in the capital Amman, on November 3. (AFP)

AMMAN – Calls to boycott legislative elections in Jordan are raising serious concerns among decision-makers in the kingdom that there will be unprecedented rates of abstention.

Voter turnout has been steadily declining in recent elections and observers expect the trend to worsen during the upcoming polls, which come during tumultuous social and economic conditions exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Until recently, there were doubts about whether the government would proceed with the elections as scheduled, but it confirmed last Sunday they would take place on time.

There are many obstacles to the polls scheduled for November 10, notably an increase in the number of coronavirus infections and the ongoing failure of the previous representatives to enact reforms encouraging Jordanian voters to cast ballots.

Political experts in the kingdom say health officials’ remarks about the danger of the pandemic in recent days have added to citizens’ concerns about going to the polls, where they fear they could contract the virus.

One health official went so far as to characterise the country’s epidemiological situation as “out of control.”

Health-conscious citizens have responded to such warnings with growing calls to boycott the election on social media platforms, including with the hashtag “Save your life, Boycott the elections.”

In an attempt to alleviate people's concerns and counter the boycott calls, political, cultural and civil society figures and activists have mobilised to encourage people to participate.

On Wednesday, Minister of Political and Parliamentary Affairs Musa Al-Maaytah urged young people to go to the polls, saying, "They are the ones able to direct their peers to actively participate in the elections during the remaining few days. They are the ones who should choose those who represent them, with programmes and ideas.”

Young people "represent a majority in society. They need laws that improve the reality of their lives in light of the challenges they face," he added, warning that this would not be possible without broad participation in the elections.

For his part, the head of the Jordanian Engineer’s Association office in the Aqaba Governorate,Amer al-Habashneh, said “Participating in legislative elections is part of the political and societal responsibility of every Jordanian citizen.”

“Participation also guarantees a continuation of efforts to build state legislative institutions. It is hoped that the next parliament will have a vital role in developing a legislative environment for the period to come,” he added.

He said that "broad participation in the parliamentary elections is the safe path towards change, the maintenance of the constitutional process, the stability of state institutions, and an affirmation of national stability in a troubled region."

The new reassuring messages from those responsible for managing the health crisis could be a political move to drive voter turnout, anonymous sources said.

"The epidemiological situation is not easy, and we must always prepare for all the epidemiological repercussions. For now, the situation is under control, and we hope that we will not reach a full lockdown," Health Minister Nazir Obeidat said on Wednesday.

For his part, head of the Epidemiological Assessment Committee and the former Health Minister Dr. Saad Al Kharabsheh said that the high number of cases is not a sign of concern for the health ministry, especially given that some 90%of cases are asymptomatic.

On Wednesday, Jordan recorded 4,658 new coronavirus cases and 62 deaths. It witnessed its highest toll on Monday, with 5,877 new cases and 47 deaths.

Observers believe that authorities and officials’ attempts to urge participation in the elections are unlikely to resonate with citizens who are outraged with how the government has handled the virus.

Some 4.65 million voters are eligible to participate in the upcoming elections.

However, the majority seem sceptical that the elections will bring about any major changes to the parliamentary scene, which is expected to have the same tribal and regional composition, with the size of political parties shrinking, including the size of the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.