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Few Surprises Expected in Jordan Election Amid Calls for Reform

Voters in Jordan go to the polls next week to choose a new parliament. But a key Islamist opposition party is accusing the government of intending to rig the poll, and secular critics say the entire electoral system needs to be reformed. VOA's Challiss McDonough has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

There is a noticeable lack of excitement over Tuesday's parliamentary elections in Jordan, an absolute monarchy in which parliament has little power.

The director of the Amman-based al-Quds Center for Political Studies, political analyst Oraib al-Rantawi, says there is little suspense about the outcome of the polls. He predicts the elections will produce a carbon copy of the current parliament.

"Anyway, I do not think we have hot elections nowadays," he said. "I think the results of more than 78 percent of the seats in the next parliament is very obvious, very clear from now, even the week before the voting day. There is no serious political competition in this election."

He says most of the candidates are either tribal nominees with ties to the government or retired members of the military or security services.

The only opposition party with a chance to make an impact is the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, which is fielding only 22 candidates. The party said earlier this week that it expects fraud.

Former Islamic Action Front secretary general Hamza Mansour is now a member of the party's ruling Shura Council.

He says many Jordanians are apathetic about the elections because of the electoral system and "because of the forgery that occurred during municipal elections."

The Islamic Action Front boycotted the July municipal elections, in which there were allegations the government brought soldiers to certain districts in buses and instructed them to vote for pro-government candidates.

Under a directive from the king, the government has pledged to run a clean, free and fair parliamentary poll, but it is clear that some members of the opposition do not believe the promise.

Meanwhile, several candidates are being investigated for vote-buying, and some of the government's critics have been banned from running, including the popular former lawmaker Toujon al-Faisal.

Most of the seats in parliament come from constituencies in rural tribal areas, not from the cities where most Jordanians live, meaning that the tribal districts are over-represented. A lawmaker elected in a rural constituency will usually represent only 2,000 or 3,000 voters, while each member of parliament from the capital represents about 95,000.

Many critics have for years been calling for changes to Jordan's electoral system, but planned government reforms have been scrapped.

Rantawi of the Al-Quds Center advocates a mixed system, combining district-based constituencies with party- or coalition-based proportional representation. He says this would strengthen Jordan's political parties and help invigorate its civil society.

"We suffer from a lack of serious political elite in Jordan, the weakness of the political parties," he said. "Because if the tribe is your shortcut to the parliament, why do you bother yourself and go to a political party or create a political party?"

Several civic groups have trained hundreds of poll monitors, but it is not clear how closely they will be allowed to observe the voting.