Candidates Still Eligible Despite Arrests

Authorities have arrested 15 candidates for Parliament who are suspected of using forged forms to obtain fraudulent voter identity cards, the chief election spokesman said Saturday.

The candidates were released and remain eligible to run in Tuesday’s election, although the investigation is continuing, said Mazen Armouti, the chief election spokesman.

The arrests reinforced fears of widespread fraud in the election, the third since King Hussein introduced democratic reforms in 1989. Armouti said thousands of Bedouins living in northern desert areas also have complained that their voter cards are missing from polling stations.

Those arrested were suspected of using forged power-of-attorney forms to obtain hundreds of government-issued voter identity cards from polling stations in Amman. Every eligible voter is supposed to pick up his or her card in person; no one is supposed to be allowed to vote without it.

Tuesday’s balloting is for the 80 seats in Parliament’s lower House of Deputies, a legislative body with limited powers.

“Our reference from the outset is democracy, respect for human rights and increased public freedoms,” King Hussein told reporters after inspecting election preparations at the Interior Ministry.

However, Jordan’s main opposition group, the Islamic Front, is boycotting the polls in protest of the government’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel, economic policies and restrictions on political freedom.

Armouti said 11 of the 15 candidates arrested since Thursday were referred to the prosecutor general. “Legal action has been initiated,” he said. The four others were suspected of “lesser crimes.” He refused to provide further details.

If convicted, the candidates face up to 10 years in prison.

Outside Amman, Armouti said thousands of Bedouins have complained that their voter cards are missing from polling booths in Jordan’s northern desert. The cards presumably were claimed by others before the legitimate owners arrived, he said.

Despite multiparty elections, King Hussein retains absolute control over the affairs of the state. His control over Parliament is ensured by the upper House of Notables, 40 lawmakers picked by the king.

The king, who has reigned since 1952, can veto any law. His veto can be overridden only if both houses of Parliament, meeting jointly, pass a bill by a two-thirds majority. Such a situation has never arisen.

Previous parliaments have been dominated by tribal leaders who support the king. In the last elections, the Islamic Front emerged as the largest opposition group with 15 seats.

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