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Boycott, violence mar Jordanian election

Progovernment results expected

Riot police tried to break up the crowd after two clans brawled yesterday in front of a polling station in Amman, Jordan. Riot police tried to break up the crowd after two clans brawled yesterday in front of a polling station in Amman, Jordan. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)
By Jamal Halaby
Associated Press / November 10, 2010

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AMMAN, Jordan — A boycott by the Islamist opposition, voter apathy, and scattered violence marred Jordan’s parliamentary election yesterday and ensured a compliant legislature that will not challenge the slow pace of political change under King Abdullah II.

The expected progovernment results will strengthen Abdullah’s course of strong ties with Washington and limited criticism of Israel, though Jordan’s public has fiercely scorned the Jewish state over the stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.

“This parliament will be a talk shop, just like the previous ones,’’ said Mohammed el-Haj, a 24-year-old cashier at an Amman convenience store who saw no point in voting. “Lawmakers don’t do anything for us. They just make speeches, but nothing more. . . . It’s only words, but no deeds.’’

In the most serious violence, supporters of rival candidates in the small southeastern town of Imrea fired guns at one another, killing a 25-year-old man and wounding six others, police said. A handful of armed men were arrested.

In Amman, rival sides clashed in several upscale neighborhoods, hurling stones, breaking shop windows, and setting trash bins afire. In one case, police had to use tear gas to disperse crowds. No casualties were reported.

Southwest of the capital, more than two dozen people wielding knives and axes tried to force voters in the city of Madaba to vote for their candidate.

The election is the fourth under Abdullah, a key US ally who ascended to the throne in 1999 vowing to transform his desert Arab kingdom into a model democracy in the Muslim world. But his changes have been slow.

Weighing heavier on people’s minds in this election was the growing poverty in a country bereft of natural resources. Voters said they hoped the new legislature would take action to spur economic growth.

“There’s a chance that this parliament will be different and will work with the government to improve the economy and help the poor,’’ said Abla Ghneim, 32, a civil engineer.

There was also widespread pessimism. While overall turnout was about 53 percent, it was just 34 percent in the capital, reflecting both apathy and the boycott calls by Islamist politicians, who have more support in Jordan’s urban areas.

Islamists boycotted the vote to protest a new election law that they said devalued votes in those areas where they had most support. Seven members of the Islamic Action Front challenged the party’s boycott and ran as independents.

The government has been hesitant to change the electoral law, fearing Islamists would regain a majority in Parliament, as happened in 1989.

Jordan’s political changes have stagnated as the government looks to limit Islamist influence at home.

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