Jordan’s elections marred by rumours, dirty money

Observers do not expect to see major changes in the composition of Jordan's next parliament.
Wednesday 11/11/2020
A member of the Jordanian security forces assists an elderly voter into a polling station in Bushra, west of Jordan's northern Irbid on November 10. (AFP)
A member of the Jordanian security forces assists an elderly voter into a polling station in Bushra, west of Jordan's northern Irbid on November 10. (AFP)

AMMAN -- On Tuesday, the curtain fell on Jordan's parliamentary elections, which were chaotic in many regions and drew allegations of rampant vote-buying, especially in the final hours of voting, despite government efforts to ensure the elections took place successfully.

The elections also witnessed low turnout, which was expected due to the coronavirus pandemics and widespread disillusionment with an electoral law that is tailor-made to reflect the tribal composition of Jordanian society. The low turnout pushed authorities to extend the voting period by two hours.

Observers said Tuesday's elections were exceptional by all standards, not only because of the pandemic, which recently caused the Hashemite kingdom to track a record 5,996 infections and 91 deaths on November 10.

Numerous violations and breaches of the voting code were alleged, especially in relation to vote-buying. In many instances, whole groups of candidates’ supporters gathered in front of polling stations were accused of openly bribing voters.

The media spokesperson for Jordan's Independent Election Commission, Jihad al-Momani, said that the elections were tainted with dirty money and confirmed the existence of videos documenting the phenomenon that have been referred to the public prosecutor's office. He also pointed out that many of the videos being circulated on social media are old and unrelated to Tuesday’s elections.

Momani acknowledged vote-buying had occurred at several polling stations and said that authorities had been alerted of these breaches. He confirmed that arrests were made on charges of corruption and that five cases related to corrupt money on the day of the election were referred to the judiciary.

In addition to vote-buying, rumours spread confusion about the electoral process in many regions. A particularly disruptive rumour was widely shared that voting had been halted in many polling stations because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

It was reported that people infected with the virus had purposely gone to polling stations, and that a number of them were arrested. Momani previously said that one COVID-19 patient had been referred to the public prosecutor's office after entering an election centre in Irbid (about 89 km north of Amman).

A Jordanian voter casts his ballot in the parliamentary election, in Amman, Jordan, Nov. 10. (AFP)
A Jordanian voter casts his ballot in the parliamentary election, in Amman, Jordan, Nov. 10. (AFP)

Official election figures show that 4,640,000 registered voters, out of a population of 10 million, were elligible to vote. 1,674 candidates, including 360 women, competed for the 130 seats in the House of Representatives, 15 of which were earmarked for women.

In statements to reporters after casting his vote in the town of Idoun in the governorate of Irbid, Jordanian Prime Minister Bishr al-Khasawneh expressed his wish to see “every citizen exercise this right and maintain public safety measures,” and hoped that “this experience will produce a parliament that meets the aspirations of our citizens.”

The Islamic Action Front, the most prominent opposition party in the country and the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, candidates representing major Jordanian tribes, independents, a number of leftists and a large number of wealthy businessmen competed in the elections.

Murad al-Adayleh, secretary-general of the Islamic Action Front, said that turnout for the parliamentary elections was “very weak,” attributing this to “fear of Corona virus, and the accumulated lack of confidence in the electoral process.”

Adayleh indicated that his party monitored numerous violations that will be announced later, and noted that there had been an “absence of the party’s lists from some election registers.”

In front of a polling station in West Amman, 30-year-old Alaa Shamout, an employee at the electricity company, told The Arab Weekly after casting his vote, “We have to vote, and this is a duty. I must choose whoever represents me in Parliament.”

“We hope to see candidates who are able to change the current situation of tough living and economic conditions make it to the House of Representatives, especially in these times of pandemic,” Shamout added.

According to experts, 2021 stands to be a tough year for Jordanians. Jordan's economy has been severely affected by the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. The kingdom is hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees that are straining the country's limited resources.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Jordan's already dire economic conditions. In the tourism sector alone, Jordan lost about $3 billion in revenue during the first eight months of this year due to closures, and thousands more jobs are threatened.

The Arab Weekly spoke to Aseel al-Lawzi, 35, in front of a polling station in the Tla'a Al-Ali area, west of Amman. “I voted because boycotting (the elections) will not work and it is not a solution,” she said.

The young woman, wearing a black face mask with sunglasses, added, “I hope that the candidate I will choose will work on solving the current problems, especially in education that has begun to decline due to distance learning.” Her views are shared by many parents.

All formal teaching is now done remotely after authorities closed schools and universities, training centres, cultural and entertainment centres, cinemas and swimming pools as part of their anti-pandemic measures. They also imposed a comprehensive nightly curfew from 10pm to 6am.

In the Baqaa camp, 20km north of Amman, the largest of the ten Palestinian camps in Jordan, with a population of 119,000 Palestinians, septuagenarian Jazi Mutlaq stood in line to vote. “God willing, I will elect a good man who would preserve the homeland, and not someone who contents himself with sitting on the chair and forgets all those behind him,” she said.

According to official statistics, Jordan's poverty rate is 15.7%. The World Bank expected this rate to rise by 11 points due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jordan's public debt is about $45 billion, representing 107% of its GDP. The unemployment rate reached 23% in the middle of this year. Jordan relies heavily on foreign aid, especially from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Observers do not expect to see major changes in the composition of Jordan's next parliament, especially in light of an electoral law that gives advantage to tribes and clans at the expense of political parties.