Jordanians went to the polls yesterday to elect their mayors for the first time, in a vote that this key US ally describes as part of a package of reforms to bring greater democracy.
Under the change in rules, Jordanians were also electing all members of their municipal councils, in which half the members used to be appointed by the government under the old system.
The opposition, particularly the most influential fundamentalist movement, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), had criticized the old system, saying it gave the government too much power.
But the IAF remained skeptical of the reforms, saying before polls opened yesterday that it expected the government to try to skew the election results by fraud.
The government had also exempted Amman from the reforms, apparently worried about the possibility its control would be weakened in the capital, where the IAF has a strong following. Voters would elect only half of Amman's 68-member municipal council, and the king would appoint the rest, along with the mayor, as he did in all cities under the old system.
Polls close at 5pm, with initial, partial results expected by midnight. Official results are to be announced at a press conference today.
King Abdullah II has touted the municipal polls -- along with parliamentary elections slated for November -- as part of a homegrown democratic reform effort that includes decentralizing decision-making and giving more freedoms to women and the media.
"The municipal elections are very significant because they allow citizens to share in the decision-making and this is all in line with political reforms," said Mohammed Malkawi, spokesman for the Ministry of Municipalities.
Abdullah has also pledged independence for political parties, so that future parliamentary polls would be based on political rather than tribal adherence.