Clashes erupt as Jordanians head to polls

A man casts his ballot at a polling station in Amman January 23, 2013. Jordanians voted on Wednesday in their first parliamentary elections since the Arab Spring revolts, but a boycott by the main Islamist party will ensure no repeat of an Egypt-style revolution via the ballot box. (Photo: Reuters - Muhammad Hammad)

Published Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jordanian security forces have fired tear gas to break up clashes between supporters of two rival election candidates in the Karak governorate where voter turnout has been the highest in the country so far.

According to Jordanian news website Jo24, some in the crowd were carrying automatic weapons.

Jordan's controversial parliamentary elections Wednesday have seen a 31.8 percent turnout of the registered electorate of 2.3 million, eight hours after polling stations opened at 0400 GMT, according to the Independent Election Commission.

The country posted its highest voter turn out in 2003 (57.75 percent) and its lowest in 1997 (47.45 percent).

The elections are the first since a wave of uprisings swept through the Arab world in 2011, leading to the downfall of four autocratic leaders.

The popular Muslim Brotherhood shunned Jordan's poll saying the electoral system had been rigged against their supporters.

Sparsely populated rural and tribal constituencies, where pro-government tribes are strong, get a bigger weighting in parliament than the Palestinian-dominated poor urban constituencies where the Islamists find their support. Wealthier Palestinians with economic power tend not to vote.

Jordan, a US-backed monarchy bordering Palestine, has seen large protests against corruption and criticizing King Abdullah. They have not been on the same scale as those that toppled rulers in Egypt and Tunisia and led to civil wars in Libya and Syria.

The government has promised free and fair polls and predicted a good turnout, despite the boycott.

"This is a sham election whose results will only erode the credibility of the future parliament," said Zaki Bani Rusheid, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood.

More than two thirds of Jordan's 7 million people live in cities but are allocated less than a third of assembly seats.

Jordanians are voting amid economic gloom, with austerity policies guided by the International Monetary Fund that the government was forced to adopt last year to avoid a fiscal crisis after years of spending on a bloated public sector.

Clashes have also been reported in Amman's fourth district and in south Amman.

The Integrity Coalition for Election Observation reports that 63 percent of ballot boxes monitored had campaign advertisements, violating a law stipulates that campaigning should have ended at midnight Tuesday. Ten ballot box locks are reported to have been broken.

(We won't protect a country of corruption...it doesn't deserve us living in it #boycotter #jordanelections)

(Al-Akhbar, Reuters)

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