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Jordan votes in election shadowed by pandemic, collapsing economy

Contest for parliament held under tight virus protocols as COVID-19 further batters debt-ridden financial system

A voter is assisted by a volunteer to put on a plastic glove before entering a polling station in Jordan's capital Amman on November 10, 2020. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)
A voter is assisted by a volunteer to put on a plastic glove before entering a polling station in Jordan's capital Amman on November 10, 2020. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordanians voted Tuesday in a parliamentary election overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has dealt a heavy blow to the Arab country’s already debt-ridden economy.

More than 50,000 security forces personnel were on hand to ensure masks were worn inside polling stations and social distancing maintained on the premises.

Authorities ruled that the election, held every four years, should go ahead, but voters who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus face up to a year in prison if they ignore instructions to stay home.

On the eve of polling day, the kingdom had confirmed around 115,000 infections and 1,295 deaths in its population of about 10 million.

Some 4.5 million Jordanians were eligible to vote and turnout stood at 29.9 percent when polls closed at 9 p.m. local time, voting having been extended for two hours due to an influx of voters.

Results were expected on Wednesday.

Voters queue outside a polling station to vote at al-Baqaa camp for Palestinian refugees north of Jordan’s capital on November 10, 2020. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

A nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. local time Tuesday until 6 a.m. Sunday was imposed with the aim of reducing celebratory gatherings that could spread the virus.

Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh cast his vote in Aidoun, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of Amman, before telling journalists he was “honored to have fulfilled this national duty and constitutional right.”

He added he hoped the election would result in “a parliament that responds to the aspirations of the citizens.”

Parliament has limited authority in Jordan, where the king has wide powers to rule by decree.

But it has provided a platform for the opposition when it has not boycotted the elections.

This year, the largest opposition faction, the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, fielded candidates in some seats despite the banning of its parent organization in a Saudi-backed move earlier in the year.

In 2016, the Islamic Action Front won 16 seats in the 130-seat parliament. In 2010 and 2013, it boycotted polls.

A voter casts a ballot behind a privacy screen at a polling station at al-Baqaa refugee camp north of Jordan’s capital on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

Tribal allegiances

Leftist and Arab nationalist groups also fielded candidates, alongside a much larger number of independents, many of them representatives of powerful tribes considered loyal to the monarchy.

“This vote is different, with people in greater distress because of the epidemic,” said Oraib Rintawi of the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies. “People will vote based on tribal allegiances, for a candidate from their own clan or for one who offers to provide them services.”

Resource-poor and dependent on foreign aid, Jordan has built up a public debt that exceeds 100% of GDP.

Unemployment stood at 23% in the first quarter, before the pandemic had even fully hit.

A member of the Jordanian security forces directs voters outside a polling station in Jordan’s capital Amman on November 10, 2020, during the 2020 general election. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

“Let’s hope the winners heed our demands,” Jazi Mutlaq told AFP after casting her vote in the Baqa’a refugee camp, north of Amman.

“We have many young people out of work, people’s financial situation is bad,” the 70-year-old said.

Acil al-Lawzi, 35, said she was worried about the impact of distance learning on children’s education.

Schools have been closed since March and many Jordanian children do not have access to the internet for online lessons.

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