Jordanians begin parliament vote boycotted by Islamists

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Polling stations across Jordan opened Wednesday in a parliament vote taking place for the first time since mass protests in the wake of the Arab Spring.

The elections are being boycotted by Islamists who have already labeled them as illegitimate. The move is unprecedented for what is expected to be an opposition-free parliament.

Pro-reform protests took place across the Hashemite kingdom during the past months; a combination of youths and Islamists have been demanding sweeping political and economic reforms.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the National Reform Front of former premier and intelligence chief Ahmad Obeidat are staying away from the polls, which opened for 12 hours from 7:00 am (04:00 GMT).

But the election “will add to problems instead of solving them, particularly under the boycott. We will see a parliament that does not have political weight,” analyst Oraib Rintawi, at the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies head, told AFP.

King Abdullah II has said that he plans for the first time to consult with MPs before naming prime ministers, insisting on Jordan’s need to create strong political parties to help pave the way for parliamentary governments.

But the Islamists say there is no real will to reform.

“Our boycott was the right decision because a parliament or government that is imposed on people is illegitimate,” said Zaki Bani Rsheid, the Brotherhood’s deputy leader.

The Islamists won only six seats in the 2007 election but wield considerable influence on society.

King Abdullah has urged people to take part, calling the boycott “a tremendous miscalculation,” and Wednesday has been declared a national holiday to encourage the 2.3 million registered voters to turn out.

The polls come as Jordan faces acute economic problems, including a $5-billion (3.6-billion-euro) budget deficit, and challenges in coping with more than 300,000 Syrian refugees who have fled their war-torn country.