The Islamist main opposition group withdrew from Jordan's first mayoral elections on Tuesday and accused the government of fraud, marring a vote that this key U.S. ally described as an important democratic reform.
"We can no longer take part in this farce and we announce the withdrawal of all our candidates," said the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The election was the first time Jordanians have been able to directly elect their mayors, who previously were appointed by the king. They were also electing all members of their municipal councils, in which half the members used to be appointed by the king.
But the government exempted the capital, Amman, from the reforms, apparently worried that its control could be weakened in the capital, where the IAF has a strong following.
The Islamic Action Front alleged that army personnel were being brought in buses to polling stations to cast multiple ballots, while security allegedly hampered others, including IAF supporters, from reaching the ballot boxes.
Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit told reporters that the IAF withdrawal was "illegal," saying the rules provide a specific timeframe for pulling out.
He did not comment on the specific fraud allegations, saying the vote was "legitimate under the constitution and will not be marred by the non-participation of a certain party."
The IAF was fielding only 90 candidates — including four women — out of 2,325 candidates vying for the 1,022 contested seats across the kingdom.
King Abdullah II has touted the municipal polls as part of a homegrown democratic reform effort that includes decentralizing decision-making and giving more freedoms to women and the media.
But voters will elect only half of Amman's 68-member municipal council, and the king will appoint the rest, along with the mayor, as he did in all cities under the old system.
The IAF, whose influence largely stems from charity work, has been working to bolster its say in governing amid what critics decry as a crackdown on the group.
Last month, nine of its members were arrested on suspicion of destabilizing the kingdom. IAF officials said the arrests were aimed at undermining the party ahead of the elections — a claim the government denied.
In Amman's impoverished Zehour district, Amjad al-Zaatreh, who wore a long beard, said as he left the booth, "I voted for someone who will serve the people, a good believer, a devout Muslim, and he will work to improve this district."
"Islam is the solution for all of our problems in Jordan," he said.
Under the new system, the voting age was lowered from 19 to 18 years to allow greater participation and 211 council seats, or 20 percent, were allocated to women — in contrast to the 2003 vote when only five women were selected.
Last Mod: 01 Ağustos 2007, 01:10