Jordanians mull abstaining from vote

2013-01-21 11:58

Zarqa - Jordanians sceptical about the outcome of a 23 January legislative election say they will not vote as they are fed up with the empty promises and failures of past parliaments.

Regular Arab Spring-inspired protests over the past two years have demanded sweeping political and economic reform, including more jobs and the elimination of poverty and corruption.

"I don't think I'll vote. I'm tired of seeing and hearing the same slogans, promises and lies over and over again," Mohammad Qeisi, aged 43, said as he sat outside his shop in the city of Zarqa, a traditional Islamist stronghold 23km northeast of Amman.

"The candidates never keep their promises after they win. They change their phone numbers and personalities, becoming unreachable."

More than 2.27 million voters have registered to choose from around 1 500 candidates contesting for 150 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Jordan wants Wednesday's vote to be a focal point for reform, but some people are concerned that many candidates lack clear programmes, despite banners on streets throughout the country with their smiling or serious faces and pledges to improve the lives of Jordanians.

Hotbed for extremists

"They are promising us all kinds of things just to win our votes. Every election, we hope something different will happen. But we get nothing," Yasmin Ghanem, aged 25, a government employee in Zarqa, said.

The industrial city of more than a million people, and a hotbed for Islamic extremists, suffers from over-population, poor infrastructure, dilapidated buildings and water problems.

"Favouritism, nepotism and tribalism control everything. I'm not sure about voting," said Ghanem, who wore an Islamic headscarf and jeans.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups like the National Reform Front of former premier and intelligence chief Ahmad Obeidat have boycotted the election over what they have described as a "lack of political will to reform".

"I will not vote. The candidates will only serve their own interests," said bearded Aladdin Shawish as he waited for the bus with Ali Madi, a school teacher who insisted "the coming parliament will be identical to the old one".

In contrast with Zarqa, candidates in Amman and Salt, northwest of the capital, have splashed out on their campaigns, serving food and sweets in large tents to anyone prepared to vote for them.

Hope for clean contest

Their efforts do not appear to have won over many people, and have in fact worked against them - the government has announced the arrest of at least six candidates, including the leader of an electoral list, for vote buying.

The arrests prompted faint hope among some voters for a clean contest, but the election for many will still be a lottery.

"I'll try to give my vote to a person who deserves it. I hope they'll work hard on meeting our needs and demands," said Taan Awaisheh, aged 24, from Salt.

"We need to put aside tribalism and racism, then we can vote," said Messef Abbadi, aged 43, who belongs to one of Jordan's largest tribes.

Jordan has established an Independent Elections Commission to oversee the vote and encourage participation, inviting international observers from the European Union, the US-based National Democratic Institute and others to ensure that polls are free and fair.

"I will not vote. I do not trust them [the candidates]," said Riad Awad, aged 44, a carpenter from the Wihdat Palestinian refugee camp in Amman, one of Jordan's largest.

'Cosmetic' election

"They are the same people we've seen in previous parliaments, or new people who know nothing about what we need. What reform? If they wanted to reform, they would have done it a long time ago."

On Friday, 2 000 protesters including Islamists, youths and leftists held a sit-in in Amman, rejecting the election as "cosmetic".

"I cannot think of anyone who deserves my vote. It is not our first election. I don't see why we should expect change when we end up with the same MPs who've done nothing for us in the past," Hashem Hammad from Khreibet Suq in Amman's east said.

"We need jobs and a real fight against corruption and poverty. Can the new parliament do this? I don't think so," the 27-year-old mechanic said.