- Associated Press - Thursday, January 24, 2013

Islamists and other government critics won about a quarter of the seats in Jordan’s newly empowered parliament, according to initial results released Thursday, a surprisingly strong showing despite a boycott by the country’s most powerful opposition group.

Loyalists of King Abdullah II will remain in control of the new legislature, however, claiming the majority of the 150 seats up for grabs in Wednesday’s parliamentary election.

But the presence of at least 37 Islamists and other opposition figures will likely inject a degree of dissent into the assembly, in sharp contrast to the outgoing parliament, which was composed almost entirely of the monarch’s supporters.

The government has touted the vote as the start of a democratization process that will see Abdullah, a close U.S. ally, gradually hand over some of his absolute powers to the legislature.

The new parliament will choose the prime minister and be responsible for running the country’s day-to-day affairs, powers that used to reside with the king. Foreign policy and security matters — for now, at least — remain in the hands of Abdullah.

Initial results released by the Independent Electoral Commission had 18 opposition Islamists winning seats, including two well-known independents.

They are not members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest and most organized opposition group, which boycotted the polls to protest an election law it says favors the king’s supporters.

About a dozen leftists affiliated with pan-Arab nationalist groups, who are vocal government critics, also won seats, as did 14 candidates from a moderate Islamist party. They are expected to lean toward the opposition rather than the government in the legislature because their known public stances often have differed with the state.

Two Brotherhood members who broke ranks with their party to contest the elections also have won, according to nearly final results.

While Abdullah loyalists claimed the majority of the seats, their haul fell far short of their 2010 parliamentary election performance.

The Brotherhood rejected the vote and the outcome, and vowed to keep up street protests and public gatherings in defiance of repeated appeals by Abdullah to have them join the political process.

“The polls were rigged,” said Hamza Mansour, a member of the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Islamic Action Front. “Suddenly, the turnout jumped 20 percent in nearly the last three hours of voting, which is impossible by all means.”

He rejected suggestions that the group has been sidelined, saying “we are part of the people and we will remain in the street to press our demands for real reforms.”

Despite the Brotherhood’s complaints, international election observers said there were few issues with the vote.

“The electoral process seemed to be working well with no serious problems,” EU chief election observer David Martin told reporters late Wednesday. Election officials “performed their tasks well, voters did not face any undue waiting to cast their ballots and most voters seemed to understand the system.”

The election commission said 1.3 million Jordanians, or 56.7 percent of nearly 2.3 million people who were registered to vote, had cast their ballots.