Jordan’s king sees elections as central to political reform

Jordan’s King Abdullah II is touting Wednesday’s parliamentary elections as the centerpiece of political reforms aimed at addressing the simmering discontent in his realm.

But analysts say the vote, which the Muslim Brotherhood and four other smaller opposition parties are boycotting, will produce more instability in Jordan, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.

At the heart of the unrest lies a new electoral law, which the opposition says ensures that the king’s loyalists get most of the seats in parliament.

The Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, and a handful of other reform movements have held protests on the eve of the vote. They have demanded that the king relinquish more of his absolute powers to parliament.

“The numbers [at these protests] were relatively big, and this is a clear message that, even if we have a new parliament, this will not change anything on the ground, protests will continue, and we will find ourselves in another political crisis,” Mohammed Hussainy, director of the Identity Center, a Jordanian organization monitoring the elections, said in a Skype interview from Jordan’s capital, Amman.

More than 1,400 candidates, including 191 women, are vying for seats in the 150-member lower house of parliament.

No one, not even the political parties that are taking part in the elections, approve of the new electoral law, said Mr. Hussainy.

“Immediately after the new parliament is set up, we will have demands to change the electoral law again, and this will lead to the same crisis: should the parliament continue or should the parliament be dissolved again?” he said. “Instead of having elections as the key to solve the political crisis, the elections itself have become a crisis.”

The electoral law will not disenfranchise any one group and is open to change by the next parliament, a Jordanian official in Amman said in a background phone interview.

“At the end of the day, His Majesty has a very clear vision for Jordan. It is about developing a democracy that will respect the plurality of Jordanian society,” the official added.

King Abdullah has fired two prime ministers in the past two years in an effort to show he is serious about reforms. In October, he dissolved the parliament and called early elections.

Unlike in other countries in the region where the Muslim Brotherhood had been banned and suppressed, the Islamists in Jordan have been loyal to the Hashemite rulers and have even taken roles in the government. The Islamists derive their support from Palestinians who make up more than half of Jordan’s 6.5 million population.

Most worrying for King Abdullah is dissent from a new youth-based opposition coalition, known as Herak, representing tribal areas that have traditionally been part of his support base.

For the first time since the 1950s, Jordanian lawmakers, not the king, will choose the prime minister.

The new electoral law, however, largely maintains the status quo, analysts say.

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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