- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

From combined dispatches

AMMAN, Jordan — Preliminary results from Jordan’s parliamentary elections showed that the opposition Islamists were set to gain a strong foothold in the assembly in the first such elections since King Abdullah II came to the throne five years ago.

Islamist candidates won all the seven seats they contested in the capital, Amman, and at least another seven seats across the country, the government announced.

Early results indicated that the Islamists, who boycotted the last elections in 1997, might not capture a quarter of the 110 seats in the lower house as analysts had predicted. But a sizable presence in parliament would allow them to put limited pressure on the government, improving the image of what had been an almost rubber-stamping assembly.

The largely Palestinian cities are strongholds of Islam and support for the Palestinian uprising against Israel. But the electoral system in Jordan favors staunchly tribal constituencies over the heavily populated cities, which are underrepresented in parliament.

Earlier, during a visit to the Interior Ministry, which organized the elections, King Abdullah said, “This is a historic day in Jordan’s life and constitutes a new beginning.”

He told journalists outside the ministry that the “new parliament makes Jordan a center for launching democratic and political life in the region.”

The elections came after a two-year delay caused by what the government described as “extraordinary circumstances,” in reference to the Palestinian-Israeli violence in the West Bank and the Iraq crisis across the eastern border.

At the time, officials said, the government was concerned that the turbulence across the western and eastern borders would bring “radical voices” to parliament, which the king dissolved in June 2001, after its four-year term ended.

King Abdullah declared a national holiday to allow the 2.3 million eligible voters to choose their next lower house of parliament, after an intensive government-sponsored campaign urging people to cast their ballots on election day.

The Interior Ministry said 40 percent of the electorate turned up by midday and that it expected at least a 60 percent turnout around the country by the time polling stations closed last night.

Members of the armed forces and security apparatus are not allowed to vote in a country that believes in a strictly nonpoliticized military. Thus, women make up the majority of the electorate.

About 770 candidates, including 54 women, were competing for seats in the first parliament that allocated six seats for female legislators and raised the number of seats to 110.

A nine-seat quota is allocated for Christians, and three seats each are allocated for the Circassian and Chechen minorities.

Thirty candidates representing the powerful Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, were vying for a place in the next parliament, in addition to a dozen more independent Islamist parties.

Analysts said they expected most IAF candidates to win after boycotting the last vote, in 1997, to protest the elections law, which they saw as guaranteeing pro-establishment victories.

Analysts had agreed that the face of the next parliament would include some opposition voices, such as the Islamists and a few leftists and pan-Arab nationalists — a result that would also make the government look democratic.

But they expected the new legislature to be dominated by tribal leaders and pro-establishment personalities.

Random interviews with voters in Amman showed that personal, rather than political, considerations assumed the highest priority when they cast their ballots.

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