Voters are participating in elections set to keep parliament in the hands of tribal and pro-government deputies, as Amman grapples with its worst economic crisis in years.

A woman casts her vote during parliamentary elections, amid fears over the rising number of the Covid-19 cases, in Amman, Jordan on November 10, 2020.
A woman casts her vote during parliamentary elections, amid fears over the rising number of the Covid-19 cases, in Amman, Jordan on November 10, 2020. (Reuters)

Jordanians are voting in a parliamentary election overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic which has dealt a heavy blow to the Arab country's already debt-ridden economy.

More than 50,000 security force personnel were on hand to ensure masks were worn inside polling stations and social distancing maintained on Tuesday. 

A handful of people lined up outside polling stations in several Jordanian towns before polls opened across the kingdom at 7 am (0400 GMT), witnesses said.

READ MORE: Jordan's king dissolves parliament ahead of elections

Voting amid economic crisis 

Across the country, banners of around 1,700 candidates fluttered from signposts appealing to 4.64 million eligible voters on mostly tribal and family loyalty.

The elections coincide with public discontent as Jordan grapples with its worst economic crisis in many years, with unemployment and poverty aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Politicians appealed to Jordanians to turn out and vote amid widespread apathy and calls for a boycott of what many see as an almost toothless tribal-dominated assembly packed with pro-government loyalists and powerless to make change.

"Our society is tribal but we have to encourage people to vote. I appeal to them to head to ballot boxes to make a change," Faisal al Fayez, a prominent politician and former premier and royal court chief, told state-owned Al Mamlaka television.

The ballot comes after King Abdullah dissolved parliament in September at the end of its four-year term and ended a debate over holding elections during emergency laws to curb the pandemic that critics said was used to stifle dissent and curb civil liberties.

READ MORE: Jordan to hold parliamentary polls on November 10

Opposition under-represented 

The government has maintained an election law that under-represents large cities that are conservative and Palestinian strongholds in favour of sparsely-populated tribal areas which form a bedrock of support for the kingdom's Hashemite monarchy.

This year, the largest opposition faction, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, is fielding candidates in some seats despite the banning of its parent organisation in a Saudi-backed move earlier this year.

In 2016, the IAF won 16 seats in the 130-seat parliament. In 2010 and 2013, it boycotted polls.

Tribalism has been on the rise as a political element in Jordan, blunting the emergence of national parties.

Leftist and Arab nationalist groups are also fielding candidates, alongside a much larger number of independents, many of them representatives of powerful tribes considered loyal to the monarchy.

READ MORE: Jordan's King Abdullah accepts premier's resignation

Declining economy 

Jordan faces the challenge of forging ahead with IMF-guided structural reforms to help recover from the pandemic's impact on its aid-dependent economy.

Resource-poor and dependent on foreign aid, Jordan has built up a public debt that exceeds 100 percent of GDP.

Unemployment stood at 23 percent in the first quarter, before the pandemic had even fully hit.

"This vote is different, with people in greater distress because of the epidemic," said Oraib Rintawi of the Al Quds Centre for Political Studies.

Polls close at 7 pm (1700 GMT), with results expected in the coming days.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies