Jordan’s municipal elections were hailed by many as a positive step towards political reform but their aftermath was tarnished by deadly celebratory gunfire. While some cheered the outcome of the elections, others mourned the death of two children killed by stray bullets from celebratory gunfire.
The elections were marred by road blocks, riots and rallies in the streets of various governorates by supporters of losing candidates. Making matters worse, the Independent Election Commission’s (IEC) website crashed due to heavy traffic, with some attributing the breakdown to hackers’ attempts to manipulate the results.
Mayors, municipal council members and governorate councils were elected for the first time under the Decentralisation Law, which gives a voice to the elected council in determining the governorate’s development priorities.
The elections witnessed low turnout in major cities, registering 31.7% voter turnout rate among 4.1 million eligible voters.
Electoral violations were reported in Central Badia district, with four ballot boxes broken and one computer damaged, leading the IEC to cancel elections in Al-Muwaqqar, a district in the Amman governorate. In 2016, parliamentary elections in the same area had a re-vote after eight ballot boxes “were stolen” and returned.
The final results were yet to be announced from the vote August 15.
Madaba Governorate Council hopeful Samer Twal, who won 1,682 votes, said the elections were a positive move and benefited the community in central Jordan.
“We are happy and satisfied with the elections as they show that citizens are better in deciding what they need and their community needs. We will play a role in developing our governorate and society to build a better future,” the 51-year-old candidate said.
Others expressed a similar sense of optimism.
“The voting process was a success and although several negative incidents were registered still the elections completed their mission with full integrity and hopes for a better future. The optimism can be felt everywhere and also criticism which is a normal aspect in any voting process,” said journalist Ayman el-Khateeb.
Although Mohammad Momani, minister of state for media affairs and government spokesman, said he considered the election to be free from vote buying, there were cases in which people claimed it happened.
“It is a typical practice in some areas where candidates’ delegates and representatives paid money directly to voters but at the municipality elections it was controlled in a very good way better than the parliamentary elections but still we heard of some cases,” he said.
A report by the Rased Centre for Election Monitoring, an NGO based in Jordan, said about 5.8% of the 952 violations recorded in last year’s parliamentary elections were related to vote buying.
Khateeb said the current temporary election law punishes vote buying with a minimum sentence of three years in jail with hard labour. “The vote buying was also tackled by the General Iftaa’ Department, which released an Islamic religious edict or fatwa forbidding vote buying, which I believe worked well,” he said.
Ajloun, north of Amman, had the highest turnout at 60%; the turnout in Kerak in southern Jordan was 58.5%; Ma’an and Tafileh each saw a 50% turnout; Irbid 28.5% and Zarqa registered the lowest at 15%.
A total of 85% of governorate council members are elected and the others are appointed.
Women’s participation in the elections was high at 52%, which many saw as an encouraging step.
“In voting, women’s participation was very good but as candidates it was very modest and not as we expected which gives a negative view in this area,” said journalist Niveen Abdul Hadi.
Member of the Balqa governorate council Manar Abu Ruman said: “I think maybe we are living in a male-dominated society and when a woman succeeds while a man fails the issue will not be taken easily in this society.
“Being a member of the council means you need to work for the benefit of your governorate and decide what is needed at a certain time, for example more schools or a hospital, and that is why we need to put our people in front of us.”
In a news conference after the elections, President of the Sisterhood Is Global Institute/Jordan Asma Khader said that acclamation or no ballot played a big role for 66 women who won seats at the local councils due to the fact that no women ran in their respective councils.
“They were deprived their right in running for the governorate and municipal councils because they were already selected to their local councils,” she said.
Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.