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Originally published Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 12:09 AM

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Jordanians vote for newly empowered parliament

Jordanians voted Wednesday for a parliament touted to be the most powerful in the kingdom's history, but with much of the opposition boycotting it is unclear how far the vote and its accompanying reforms will go to pacify a two-year long wave of protests.

Associated Press

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AMMAN, Jordan —

Jordanians voted Wednesday for a parliament touted to be the most powerful in the kingdom's history, but with much of the opposition boycotting it is unclear how far the vote and its accompanying reforms will go to pacify a two-year long wave of protests.

At least 125,000 Jordanians, or 5 percent of the 2.3 million who registered to vote, cast ballots in the first two hours after polls opened despite technical computer problems with the balloting, elections commission head Abdul-Illah Khatib said. That is reasonably heavy turnout for the early morning.

King Abdullah II has given the parliament the right to choose the prime minister, previously appointed by the crown. It is one of several major reforms that will see the elected legislature take over much of the responsibility for day-to-day affairs of state, although the king - for now - will still set broader foreign and security policy.

The 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in the region set off a wave of demonstrations in Jordan, albeit much smaller than those that toppled autocratic leaders in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia and devolved into a bloody civil war in Syria. Abdullah is trying to control the pace of change.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour told reporters that the vote was a "a stepping stone, or a station, on the path of more vigorous, serious, real and genuine reforms," as he cast his ballot in his northwestern hometown of Salt.

"More democracy is coming," added Ensour, who is expected to tender his resignation to the king shortly after the vote as Jordan's last appointed premier. Officials said Ensour will remain a caretaker until parliament elects his successor.

But government critics, led by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, say the king's moves do not go far or fast enough to end his monopoly on power.

The Islamist group is boycotting the vote, as are four smaller parties, including communists and Arab nationalists, on grounds that an electoral law introduced last year favored pro-king loyalists and undercut votes in its favor.

The Islamists' frustration is growing because the Brotherhood has not been able to rally a large sector of the public to their side. Though there is anger over the economy, rising prices and corruption, many Jordanians also distrust the Brotherhood, eyeing its rise in Egypt and fearing it could grab power in Jordan and throw it into instability.

"It's a national wedding in Jordan, with the bride being the new parliament," said Amman housewife Basma Edwan, 32, as she enthusiastically cast her ballot, beaming a smile at photographers inside the polling room.

Outside the Amman polling station, convenience store cashier Mohammed Abu-Summaqa, 21, said he will not be voting.

"Deputies will not be able to do anything for us because they are controlled by the king and Cabinet, so why should I vote?" he asked.

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