Jordanian Political Crisis Deepens As Riots Enter Third Day

The political crisis gripping Jordan is deepening as the country witnesses its third day of post-election violence, writes Tamer al-Samadi.

al-monitor A riot policeman stands guard as protesters from opposition parties demonstrate against rising fuel prices, in Amman, Nov. 23, 2012.  Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.

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protests, jordan, abdullah ensour

Jan 28, 2013

Jordan is witnessing its third day of riots protesting against the outcomes of the parliamentary elections, which showed a victory for tribal forces. These riots have deepened the political crisis that the country has been going through since January 2011. Scenes of violence killed one and injured three in the eastern tribal city of Mafraq, and eclipsed governmental and Western reports, which confirmed the integrity of the voting process. This comes at a time when Jordanian King Abdullah II is considering his options regarding the formation of a new government.

Security sources told Al-Hayat that the Jordanian capital and other cities witnessed 31 different riots instead of peaceful protests from Friday night until yesterday afternoon [Jan. 26]. The sources said that some places witnessed shootings, roadblocks and the burning of public departments and institutions. Rioters attempted to reach the residence of Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour in the city of Salt, west of Amman, before heading [Jan. 26] to the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) headquarters at around noon yesterday. The IEC headquarters are located at the heart of the capital, and were protected by large contingents of both the police and gendarmerie, along with military armored vehicles, in anticipation of being stormed.

In Mafraq (east of Amman), one man was killed and three more were injured, after being trampled in a fight between the supporters of two tribes, where firearms were used. This has prompted the authorities to deploy a large number of gendarmerie and guards at the city entrances and main streets, in anticipation of further violent clashes.

In Ma'an, south of Amman, riots killed one and injured two more Wednesday evening, a day after preliminary results were announced. The city is still experiencing widespread riots that have continued since the early hours of Thursday morning, when vehicles and public institutions were burned.

Protesters chanting slogans for the opposition

Remarkably, tribal protesters chanted slogans supporting the opposition forces and parties, in protest of the election results. These slogans were interpreted as a sort of political provocation against officials. The Muslim Brotherhood — the most prominent political force in the country — was absent from the entire scene, however, after it canceled the demonstration that the group had called for the day before yesterday [Jan. 25], with the aim of overthrowing the 17th parliament.

Vote-counting errors

While the majority of protests focused on the results for individual seats, the parties’ lists results overshadowed the electoral scene. While 819 candidates on 61 lists competed for 27 out of 150 seats, candidates from only 22 lists won.

Remarkably, the number of votes that the winning lists received ranged between 14,000 and 37,500 votes, up to 49,000 votes. This pushed the winning and losing candidates to question the results and accuse the authorities of increasing and decreasing the number of votes, an allegation which has been  strongly denied by the IEC.

The scene became more complex, as the results showed a victory for the Citizenship list over the Democratic Renaissance list — which included five representatives from leftist and nationalist parties — by only 10 votes. This prompted the democratic renaissance list to accuse certain quarters of meddling against it. Surprisingly, the IEC agreed yesterday to a recount of votes in front of observers and representatives from the two lists. The recount showed that the leftist and nationalists list won a single seat, after final results had previously confirmed that this seat was won by the Citizenship list.

Such mistakes gave the losing candidates and their supporters additional excuses to continue to protest and demand a recount of the disputed ballot boxes. Moreover, others went as far as to demand new elections in their constituencies.

Consensual government

At the same time, Al-Hayat has learned that the Jordanian king has begun to consider options regarding the formation of a new government, after he announced in Davos, Switzerland, that in the near future Jordan “will see a new phase,” which consists of assigning the management of the country’s affairs to parliamentary governments. According to sources, the king discussed with his close associates the possibility of keeping Ensour at the head of the new government, based on new standards, in order to consult the majority in parliament. However, this option has hit a dead end, as they have decided that “keeping Ensour will not be encouraging when announcing a new phase of reform,” particularly when 40 former MPs are shown to be members of the new parliament. The King is looking at several scenarios regarding a new PM, who most importantly needs to be a consensual official who greatly contributes in ending the tension in the kingdom. Moreover, some close associates to decision-making circles have not ruled out the possibility that Abdul Ilah Khatib, head of the IEC, will be added to the list of candidates for the post.

This comes at a time when the U.S. State Department welcomed the reform process led by the king yesterday. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: “We view these elections as an important step in the reform process initiated by King Abdullah II,” adding: “The international observers found that the voting process saw an improvement over past elections, but they also offered recommendations about continuing to improve Jordan’s electoral process going forward.”

Success and failure

Opposition and pro-government politicians believe that this time, the state has passed the integrity test in relation to managing the polling day, but failed the electoral law test. In fact, the law was protested by the opposition, and criticized by international observers who monitored the elections. The observers considered that the law “caused the public to return to tribalism and their sub-identities,” which was openly suggested by David Martin, head of the European Union's Election Observation Mission in Jordan, when he met a number of journalists.

Tribal protests in the kingdom seem expected, according to some officials to whom Al-Hayat spoke.  Close associates to decision-making circles said that the state “could find itself forced to please some tribes irritated by the results  by granting them seats in the new government or senate,” whose members are directly appointed by the king and considered the lower house of parliament.

While protests seem to be gradually dissipating, some believe that the recent violence “will leave additional scars” in the country’s political scene. The Jordanian election law, which largely consists of the one-vote system, has sparked a great deal of controversy. The opposition forces feel that it does not ensure enough representation for parties and major cities, which have been long considered the strongholds of Islamists and Jordanians of Palestinian origin.

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