- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Jordan's King Abdullah II Monday issued a royal decree ordering the government to hold parliamentary elections for the first time since he assumed the Hashemite throne in February 1999.

A brief royal palace statement, which made the announcement, did not mention a date for the next polls, but the monarch had earlier promised elections to be held next spring.

Officials said the government now had to set a date for the legislative polls following the king's orders.

The royal decree came three weeks after provisional amendments were introduced to the elections law giving women a quota in the lower house of Parliament, raising the number of seats from 104 to 110.

Initially, the elections were set for November 2001, but were delayed due to what the government said were "extraordinary regional circumstances," in reference to the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and the growing possibility of a U.S. war on neighboring Iraq.

Officials had said the government did not want regional turbulence to affect the outcome of elections, thus bringing a majority of opposition candidates to Parliament.

Around 14 political parties, in addition to 13 professional syndicates, oppose the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty and have sharply criticized U.S. threats to launch military operations against Iraq, the kingdom's main trading partner.

Although the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on Jordan's western border and the possibility of war across its eastern border seems more likely, the king's decision came after repeated promises that regardless of the circumstances, he intended to call for elections before the summer of 2003.

Meanwhile, opposition party sources said they would decide "soon" on whether to boycott this year's elections as they did in 1993 to protest elections law, which they saw as "unjust."

The opposition, led by the Islamic Action Front and including leftist and pan-Arab nationalist groups, said the elections law guaranteed the victory for tribal and pro-government candidates through the uneven distribution of districts in accordance with population.

Analysts said the opposition was likely to participate this time after having been marginalized from the decision-making process in the past several years because of the boycott.

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