Observers: Jordan vote held in 'largely peaceful' atmosphere

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) " Most voters in Jordan's parliament election were able to cast their ballots "without any significant impediment," an international observer team said Wednesday, as partial results were announced.

In Tuesday's election, voters in the pro-Western monarchy chose a 130-member parliament, with the veteran opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, competing for the first time since 2007. A senior official in the group said he expected a Brotherhood-led coalition to win about 16 seats.

About 1.5 million Jordanians " or 37 percent of eligible voters " cast ballots, compared to 56 percent in 2013.

Election officials said the actual number of ballots cast was higher than in 2013, by more than 200,000, and the pool of potential voters this year was twice as large.

Some said low turnouts raised concerns about widespread apathy, noting that only one-fourth of voters cast ballots in Jordan's two largest urban centers, the capital, Amman, and the city of Zarqa. Polls have indicated that the vast majority of Jordanians believe parliament is weak and ineffective.

"It is a serious wake-up call to think about (whether) the political system matches the needs of the Jordanian citizen," said Anja Wehler-Schoeck, who observed the election for the pro-democracy Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which is linked to Germany's Social Democratic Party.

Jordanians chose from more than 1,200 candidates competing on 226 lists in 23 districts. A voter could select one or more candidates on a district list.

The proportional system replaced the "one man, one vote" rule that had been in place since 1993 and had discouraged the formation of political parties.

Analysts said the new rules were an improvement, but did not constitute a breakthrough toward a parliamentary democracy. They said the new parliament would largely be comprised of individuals, rather than voting blocs, similar to the outgoing legislature.

On Wednesday, election officials announced results in three of the districts, saying the rest would be released gradually. Fifteen seats are reserved for women, nine for Christians and three for ethnic minority Chechens and Circassians. It was not clear when final results would be announced.

Most closely watched was the showing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The movement's political arm, the Islamic Action Front, had candidates on 20 lists, in some areas running jointly with Christian, ethnic minority or tribal candidates. In its platform, the IAF focused on domestic concerns, such as high unemployment, moving away from its traditional Islamic rhetoric.

Zaki Bani Ersheid, a senior IAF official, told The Associated Press that he expected the IAF-led alliance to win about 16 seats, based on unofficial reports from voting districts. He said this would likely include six seats for IAF members and 10 seats for allies.

The IAF won six seats in the 2007 election, but boycotted two subsequent votes, arguing the electoral rules were unfair.

In recent years, the movement suffered several splits, with one breakaway faction recognized by the government as the official Brotherhood.

Authorities also closed offices of the original Brotherhood. Bani Ersheid served 13 months in prison, starting in 2014, for criticizing the United Arab Emirates, an ally of Jordan.

Bani Ersheid said Wednesday that he expects the IAF-led alliance to wield influence beyond its size as the largest voting bloc in the new parliament. "We can talk about having more coalitions in parliament to increase the number of bloc members," he said.

Meanwhile, a 45-member team of international observers said that the election was organized efficiently and held in a "largely peaceful atmosphere."

It said in a statement that there were isolated problems, such as campaigning at polling stations, but that "most voters were able to cast votes without significant impediments."

The team was led by Atifete Jahjaga, a former president of Kosovo, and John Sununu, a former U.S. senator.

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Associated Press writer Khetam Malkawi contributed to this report.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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