- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan, Feb. 10 (UPI) — Women are to be given a quota of seats in Jordan's parliament, the press reported Monday.

According to the reports, King Abdallah II has endorsed a provisional amendment to the parliamentary elections law, allocating women a quota of places for the first time.

The amendment gives them six seats in the Lower House of Parliament, raising the total number of its members to 110.

The quota fell two short of the eight seats a special committee recommended last month.

The committee was one of five panels set up by the government under the slogan "Jordan First," recently adopted to promote development of social, political and economic life.

Only one woman, independent feminist Tujan Faisal, managed to secure a parliament seat in the 80-seat legislature in elections in 1993.

The amendment gives the Interior Ministry, rather than the judiciary, the authority to count votes for female legislators and identify the six with the highest number of votes after winners of the other 104 places are announced.

Women's rights activists blasted the quota as too low and criticized the government for having sole responsibility in counting the women votes.

They said the procedure lacked transparency and gave the government the opportunity to rig the results in favor of its candidates.

The issue of a quota for women has stirred controversy across the kingdom. Islamic movements and some secular opposition activists opposed such a quota as well as existing parliamentary quotas for minorities.

They called for removing the quota for the Circassian and Chechen communities, as well as for the Christian minority. The Circassians, a Muslim people from the Russian Caucasus, first arrived in what is now Jordan in 1878. Estimates of their present number run as high as 80,000.

Another Muslim people from the Caucasus, the Chechens, also arrived in Jordan as refugees from the Russian empire at the end of the 19th century. Now, there are some 4,000 of them.

Arab Christians comprise something over 4 percent of the predominantly Muslim population and include Orthodox,

Catholics, and some Protestants.

After twice delaying elections, the king said they would be held next spring, but he did not specify a date. He cited turbulent regional conditions for the delays, a reference to the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and the growing threat of a possible U.S. war on Iraq.

Officials said holding elections on time — the vote was first scheduled for November 2001 — would have given the opposition, including radicals, a greater opportunity to secure seats in a parliament that has widely been regarded as a rubber stamp for the government.

Opposition parties, led by the powerful Islamic Action Front and including leftist and pan-Arab nationalist groups, boycotted 1997 polls to protest the election law adopted by the government the same year.

They charged that electoral districts had been drawn up to guarantee a majority of seats for tribal and pro-establishment candidates.

The opposition hasn't yet announced whether it will participate in the next polls, following adoption of another provisional election law in 2001.

Jordan has been without a parliament since the king dissolved it in June 2001 when it ended its four-year term.

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