Jordanians vote amid anger over Syria war impact

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Jordanians were voting Tuesday in municipal elections with the impact of a massive influx of war refugees from neighboring Syria on a struggling economy stoking voter resentment and apathy.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition party, is boycotting the polls, charging that, despite repeated promises since the Arab Spring of 2011, there is no real readiness for change.

With few candidates of the leftist or nationalist opposition standing, tribal figures, who are the traditional bedrock of the monarchy, are set to sweep the elections.

“The electoral process is going smoothly. There are no obstacles or problems to report,” Municipal Affairs Minister Walid Masri told a news conference.

“The turnout is good and we hope Jordanians will vote, boosting democracy and helping municipalities provide services to people,” he said.

Masri added that more than 4,000 local and international observers were monitoring the process.

The election has been overshadowed by anger among Jordanians over the impact of more than 500,000 Syrian refugees on their lives and the country.

Officials say the influx has placed a huge burden on already overstretched water and power supplies as well as housing and education.

Also, the government has announced a raft of austerity measures as it battles to reduce a $2 billion deficit this year and rein in a foreign debt that now exceeds $23 billion (17 billion euros).

Last month, it doubled taxes on cellphones and mobile telephone contracts, and it also plans to raise the price of electricity by 15 percent.

“I know that the country is going through difficult time, but I want to vote and choose the right person to help city,” Widad Issa, 85, told AFP after her grandson helped her vote in the mainly Christian city of Fuheis, west of Amman.

Supporters of candidates offered Arabic coffee to voters amid normal traffic flow and low-key security presence.

In western Amman, Munther Assaf, 65, voted in a school for girls.

“I voted for a person who I think understands my concerns and fears,” said Assaf, wearing a read-and-white keffiyeh scarf.

Some 3.7 million Jordanians are registered to vote in the elections, in which they will pick 100 mayors and 970 municipal councilors from about 3,000 candidates in 94 municipalities.

The electoral law reserves 297 municipal council seats for women.

Around 50,000 policemen were deployed across the kingdom on election day “to prevent any violations and ensure a smooth process,” police chief Talal Kofahi has said.

Analysts say public anger might spark post-election disturbances and is likely to lead to a low turnout.

And after four hours of voting, officials said the participation rate was four percent. Polling stations will be open for 10 hours until 5:00 pm (14000 GMT)

The government has announced that about 1.25 million members of the armed forces, security services, people living abroad, and more than 40,000 election employees will not take part.

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