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Jordanian government postpones municipal elections

Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh speaks to reporters during a recent press conference. [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh speaks to reporters during a recent press conference. [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

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The new Jordanian government, headed by Awn Al-Khasawneh, announced Wednesday (October 26th) it would postpone the municipal elections scheduled for December 27th until the first quarter of 2012.

"The decision to postpone the municipal elections is in force. That gives citizens a new opportunity to register their names on the electoral rolls," Minister of Municipal Affairs Maher Abu al-Samin said in a press statement released Wednesday.

Abu al-Samin said the new date for municipal elections would be announced in a few days, and that the election would be before March 15th.

New Prime Minister Awn al-Khasawneh said in televised remarks following the first meeting of his cabinet on Monday that "it is appropriate to postpone the municipal elections". He also expressed hope that the delay could allow for more independent oversight of the elections.

"The role of the independent commission to oversee the elections, if created, would not be confined to overseeing the parliamentary elections, but hopefully the municipal elections as well, which are no less important," he said.

The government extended the registration period for the elections from October 25th to January 7th, 2012, after more than two million voters registered.

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Municipalities, registration will only be open on Saturdays (an official holiday in Jordan), from 10 am until 1 pm.

Government hopes for wider participation

Samir al-Raqqad, a Ministry of Municipalities spokesman, told Al-Shorfa that he hopes the extension of the registration period would lead to wider participation in the upcoming elections.

"The number of municipalities is up to 230, and the number of registered voters has exceeded two million for the upcoming elections," he said.

Since August, the government has created 99 new municipalities in various regions and provinces, bringing the total number to 192, after demands calling for the separation of municipalities got louder.

However, in the past few weeks, the government decided to create more municipalities amid continuing protests, bringing the total number of municipalities to 230.

Lawyer Ayman Salem told Al-Shorfa that postponing the elections was a positive decision because it allows more time to form the independent commission to oversee the municipal elections and then the parliamentary elections.

"The new municipalities law, approved months ago, set a specific time period within which the government, through the Minister of Municipalities, could postpone the elections," Salem said.

The House of Representatives passed a new municipalities and local councils law on July 27th. Under the new law, 8% of the price of fuel and 50% of the fees collected under the traffic law, including fees from vehicles licenses, traffic violation, and health regulation violations, will be allocated to municipalities.

The House of Representatives also cancelled the prerogative of the cabinet to remove a head or member of a municipal council from his or her position.

Producing efficient municipalities

Musa Shteiwi, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies, said the municipal elections would be important for preparation for the parliamentary elections, which will be based on the new election law.

"The municipal elections that will be held within months, will show the extent of the new government's commitment to democratic progress," he said.

Dr. Fouad Kreishan, professor of economics and development at Al-Hussein Bin Talal University, underscored the importance of the next election in terms of producing municipal councils capable of carrying the burden of development outside the capital, amid growing talk of development of small-and medium-sized projects to create more jobs.

"Producing efficient municipalities through free elections in conjunction with the allocation of eight percent of the fuel returns to the municipalities will enhance the potential of local governments in developing areas that have experienced uneven development," Kreishan said.

Abdul Aziz al-Hami, 63, a retired government employee, praised the decision to delay the elections.

"The government's postponement of the election is a bold decision in light of the floundering that occurred in the course of municipal elections, in terms of the process of separating the municipalities."

He said the level of turnout for election registration in his region of Irbid, north of Amman, was positive.

"This time around, the municipalities are supported with sufficient financial resources through the government’s allocation of eight percent of the price of fuel to municipalities," he said.