Jordan election turn-out tests support for democracy

AMMAN - In a school in the poor Wehdat area of south Amman, the veiled young women sitting at the schoolbenches were older than usual for these classrooms. Yet they had their eyes fixed on the teacher's table, and the three white ballot boxes, writes Charles Richards.

There were more than 20 candidates for three seats in the second district of Amman, which includes Wehdat, in polling yesterday. However, by 1pm only about 15 per cent of female voters had heeded King Hussein's exhortation to vote as a national duty.

The district was a stronghold of the most militant of all Islamist politicians, Sheikh Abdel Moneim Abu Zant. His virulent opposition to the PLO-Israel peace accord, and his personal attacks on the PLO chairman Yasser Arafat were expected to alienate many voters.

The constituency was the largest in the land but had only three candidates. More than 90 per cent of residents are Jordanians of Palestinian origin, and many have accused the government of gerrymandering. in favour of East Bank Jordanians.

In Amman, 173 candidates stood for 21 seats in six constituencies. The veteran Communist Party leader Yaacoub Ziadin was a candidate for the seat reserved for Christians. Results for the 80 seat parliament are due this afternoon. Less important than the composition of what is a fairly impotent parliament will be the voter turn-out as an indicator of popular support for the electoral process or apathy towards it.