AMMAN (AFP) – Patriotic music and songs praising Jordan’s King Abdullah II (pictured) boom from a white tent pitched in Amman by candidates standing in Tuesday’s parliamentary election.
Dozens of supporters mill about, sipping bitter black coffee or biting into syrup-drenched pieces of konafa, a traditional Arabic sweet.
But their hearts are not quite in it.
Hani Ajour, 55, says he has “no faith in the election”.
“Unfortunately the results are known in advance. The government puts its cronies in parliament and after the vote campaign promises are forgotten,” he adds.
But Ajour also admits that he will vote on Tuesday and cast his ballot for a “friend”, one of several candidates on a tribal list.
Jordan’s electoral system gives disproportionate clout to rural districts, which are less populated than the cities but tend to return tribal candidates loyal to the monarchy.
The Phenix Center, a local pollster, said that 32 percent of Jordanians would vote for a family or tribe member, while 27 percent believe that voting is a national duty.
Mohammed, who worked for the interior ministry for 30 before retiring, does not belong to either category.
“They’re all hypocrites. Believe me, elections in Jordan are a big lie,” he says, declining to give his full name.
Mohammed says he has visited the tent every day since campaigning began out of a sense of “duty” to support a candidate from his tribe, but also that is determined not to vote on election day.
“Even if my father rose from his grave to stand in the elections, I wouldn’t vote for him,” he says.
With the exception of the opposition Islamists, who can count on grassroots support, other candidates rely on tribal and family connections.
Experts expect that the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, will win around 20 seats in the 130-seat parliament, making it the largest opposition force.
The IAF boycotted elections in 2010 and 2013 in protest at the then electoral law which played in favour of pro-government and tribal candidates, but decided to stand this year after the law was amended.
– Campaign pledges ignored –
In past elections, Jordanians complained of alleged vote rigging and vote buying and denounced the MPs they voted for, saying they failed to deliver on election pledges to improve their lot.
Habib Lotfi, an electrician, is among those who says he will vote “because it is my electoral right”, but he also says he is not happy with the system and the candidates.
“Most of the candidates work for personal gain, not to improve people’s lives,” he believes.
Shopkeeper Bilal Shalabi agrees.
“It’s always the same — the deputies who get elected don’t work for the good of the people. The exact opposite: they pass laws imposing new hardships on us,” he says.
Unemployment in the kingdom is 14 percent, with the under 30s who represent 70 percent of the population of 9.5 million the worst hit, official statistics show.
However, unofficial estimates put the number of jobless as high as 30 percent.
Last year growth slumped to 2.4 percent, down from 3.1 percent in 2014, and the prices of most goods, electricity, fuel and other services are constantly rising.
Jordan, stuck between Iraq and Syria, has borne the brunt of the conflicts ravaging its two neighbours and over the years has received a steady influx of refugees.
Despite the challenges facing the tiny resource-poor kingdom, some voters remain optimistic.
Sawsan, a blonde woman in her 30s, says she did not vote in the past two elections. But she will this time, and says she will cast her ballot for “emerging new groups” of candidates.
“I’ve seen new groups entering the political arena with new programmes. I’m hoping for big changes, actually, and that’s why I’ve decided to vote this time,” she says.
Samer Qobain, 40, adds: “Democracy can’t be built in a day.
“It’s true that our elections are always dominated by money and tribal relations more than political debate, but bit by bit we’re trying to change things.”