Polling stations across Jordan opened today in a vote boycotted by Islamists behind strident pro-reform protests who have already labelled as illegitimate what is expected to be an opposition-free parliament.
The Arab Spring movement that began two years ago and toppled four regimes across the region also sparked regular protests in Jordan, where a combination of youths and Islamists have been demanding sweeping political and economic reforms.
Their protests have become increasingly vocal and, during deadly November rioting over a sharp hike in fuel prices, there were unprecedented calls from some quarters for King Abdullah II to step down.
The monarch, whose throne is not seriously thought to be under threat, is hoping that today's polls will produce a new crop of strong MPs who will work efficiently to jump start reform.
But analysts say tribal leaders and other pro-regime figures, along with independent businessmen, are expected to sweep the polls in the country of 6.8 million people.
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the National Reform Front of former premier and intelligence chief Ahmad Obeidat are staying away from the polls, which opened for 12 hours from 0400 GMT.
But the election "will add to problems instead of solving them, particularly under the boycott. We will see a parliament that does not have political weight", analyst Oraib Rintawi, the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies head, told AFP.
The king has said that he plans for the first time to consult with MPs before naming prime ministers, insisting on Jordan's need to create strong political parties to help pave the way for parliamentary governments.
But the Islamists say there is no real will to reform. "Our boycott was the right decision because a parliament or government that is imposed on people is illegitimate," said Zaki Bani Rsheid, the Brotherhood's deputy leader.
The Islamists won only six seats in the 2007 election but wield considerable influence on society. They object to existing constituency boundaries, which they say over-represent loyalist rural areas at the expense of Islamist urban bastions.
The polls come as Jordan faces acute economic problems, including a USD 5-billion budget deficit, and challenges in coping with more than 300,000 Syrian