Riots Erupt as Jordan Elections Show Tribal, Conservative Gains

Article Summary
Police have used tear gas on protesters as riots have swept through Jordan, following elections that showed significant gains for conservative and tribal pro-government candidates, writes Tamer al-Samadi.

Mass riots broke out in the southern, central and northern cities of Jordan yesterday [Jan.24], and were tackled by security forces. The riots broke out after preliminary results of the parliamentary elections were announced, which showed the victory of the tribal and conservative forces (which are close to the government), along with scores of figures from the previous parliament, which Jordanian King Abdullah II dissolved late last year in the face of mounting popular protests demanding reform and a fight against corruption.

King Abdullah made a visit yesterday afternoon to the General Directorate of General Security, and met with the security director Lt. Gen. Hussein Hazza Majali. The king stressed “the importance of safeguarding the rights of citizens, spreading security and reassurance, and establishing the rule of law.”

As the results began to come out, a young man in his twenties died and two were wounded by gunfire in the southern tribal city of Maan. Riots spread throughout the city in protest of the losses of certain candidates. Hundreds of protesters set fire to the Ministry of Education headquarters and sensitive government institutions, while others attacked commercial banks, but iron barriers surrounding these buildings prevented their torching.

Elsewhere, protesters blocked main roads by burning rubber tires and garbage containers. Police responded with tear gas.

Mass riots also broke out in Kerak in the south, and in the towns of Sarfa in the Faqou district, Al-Husseiniya in the southern district of Mazar, and in ‘Ay district. According to Col. Mohammed Khatib, spokesman for the Public Security Directorate, these areas witnessed riots involving hundreds of youths. He said that the gendarmerie and police were able to respond to them in a “civilized way” and in accordance with the law.

Moreover, similar riots took place in the southern city of Aqaba, where scores of protesters tried to burn down vote-counting centers in protest of the decision to recount some ballots.

Supporters and relatives of a candidate in the district of Theban in the central governorate of Madaba staged violent riots after the spread of news that he had lost in the elections. They were met by police who responded with tear gas to disperse them.

In the north, near the city of Jerash, scores of masked men closed the main roads and attacked vehicles with stones and empty bottles, before they were dispersed by police.

In the northern town of Ajloun, government forces used tear gas to disperse protesters who fired shots outside the counting centers. In the same city, a young man plowed his car into hundreds who were celebrating the victory of their candidate, injuring about 19 people, some of whom sustained fractures, bruises and various injuries.

The situation was no different in the northern city of Balama in Mafraq, which saw mass riots, tire burning and road blocking.

In the northern city of Irbid, supporters of a losing candidate attacked the counting rooms and destroyed public property.

Preliminary electoral results have shown a sweeping victory for the Jordanian tribes along with many pro-government figures, and the return of scores of members of the dissolved parliament. The leftist and nationalist parties won a single seat, by former MP Abla Abu Olbeh.

The results came as a surprise, particularly the win of about 17 seats by the Muslim Center Party, which has for a long time lacked popular support. The party is seen as a product of defectors from the Muslim Brotherhood and others known for their government affiliation.

According to preliminary figures, about 30 businessmen managed to secure seats in parliament.

In unprecedented developments, owners of local TV stations won three parliamentary seats. The well-known liberal Mustafa Hamarneh was able to win the Christian seat in the city of Madaba. For the first time, two brothers won — Khamis Attieh, and Khalil Attieh who received 19,399 votes, the highest number of votes in the kingdom.

Remarkably, four candidates on trial for charges of buying votes won in the elections, hours before they were released without clarification about their membership in parliament and if they were to be convicted.

The National Current Party, led by prominent statesman and former parliament speaker Abdul Hadi Majali won a single seat; by Majali himself. This prompted Majali to consider resigning from the new parliament in protest of the results, according to sources close to him. In addition, prominent media personality Rola Houroub has announced that she will resign from parliament in protest of the “state rigging in favor of the Islamic center.”

Head of the Independent Electoral Commission Abdul Ilah al-Khatib said in a news conference yesterday evening that “the king had a political will to conduct fair elections, and no official breaches have been reported.” He added that “the commission worked transparently, and the citizens are to respond to any allegations of rigging.”

He added: “There may have been a few violations, but they were insignificant. We have not been informed of breaches that undermine the integrity of the electoral process.”

The Independent Electoral Commission announced on Jan. 23 that the number of voters reached 1,287,760, while the final percentage of voting based on the number of registered voters (2.3 million) was 56.69 percent. The total number of people who are eligible to vote is about 3.1 million.

It seems that the new parliament will face major challenges, especially on the reform and corruption fronts. This is due to the fact that the majority of winning deputies do not have clear political agendas and programs.

Amid the heated conflict between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood (the major opposition group in the country), pressing questions about this parliament will remain until it becomes clear whether or not it will find solutions for the political and economic crises in the kingdom. The kingdom has seen the dissolution of two parliaments in the past five years, whose elections were marred with rigging and broad violations that were recognized by the authorities.

Jordan’s State Security Court yesterday sentenced the former CEO of the government company, Mawared Akram Abu Hamdan and his deputy Zaid al-Aqbani, to three years in prison with hard labor. The two were convicted on charges of abusing public office. Mawared’s is one of many corruption cases that have galvanized Jordanian public opinion, and prompted popular movements in light of the Arab Spring revolutions.

Found in: supreme constitutional court, protests

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