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Middle east

Islamist boycott overshadows Jordan vote

Video by Luke SHRAGO

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-01-23

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for voters to boycott legislative elections in Jordan on Wednesday, which have been touted as a key milestone in the kingdom’s “evolution” towards democracy.

Jordan’s parliamentary elections on Wednesday, which the government says are a key milestone in the country’s “step-by-step” process of democratisation, have been overshadowed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s call for a vote boycott.

Under reforms announced over the past two years, election rules have been changed to allow a degree of proportional representation in 27 of the kingdom’s 150 constituencies.

However, the majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies will be elected through a first-past-the-post system in small predominantly tribal constituencies which are overwhelmingly conservative and pro-monarchy.

And for the first time, the job of choosing a prime minister will be given to parliament - although King Abdullah II will still be responsible for naming government ministers.

Brotherhood boycott

But these reforms do not go far enough for the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Islamic Action Front party claims they are a sham designed to reinforce the king’s authority.

Wednesday’s elections will be a real test for the Islamic Action Front, which has called for voters to boycott the poll in protest.

A low turnout would undermine the authority of the new parliament, while high numbers would legitimise Abdullah’s aim to reform his country’s political system through a process of gradual evolution, thereby avoiding the convulsions that have seen other absolute rulers in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya overthrown and started a war in neighbouring Syria.

Last Friday, the Muslim Brotherhood held a rally in the capital, Amman. Between 1,000 and 2,000 protesters turned up to hear the movement’s Jordanian leader Hammam Saeed vow that the country would become a “state in the Muslim Caliphate”.

“The electoral system imposed on us is both anti-democratic and unconstitutional,” he told the crowd of bearded Islamist supporters. “Rejoice, victory is at hand, an Islamic state will be created on this land so that good will prevail.”

‘Step-by-step’ journey to democracy

The government, meanwhile, insists that a measured pace of reform is needed to acclimatise the population to democracy, and that the reforms announced last year in the face of sometimes violent demonstrations are a genuine move away from the total domination of the king.

“Change can’t happen overnight, it will take a bit of time,” Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour told reporters last week, adding that the process of democratisation was “carefully calculated, step-by-step, genuine and irreversible.”

“Hard work will kick in a day after the elections, when the new parliament will elect a prime minister for the first time in Jordan’s history. More laws will be amended as we go through the path we have chosen.”

“The system of ruling in Jordan is evolving,” King Abdullah II told French magazine Nouvel Observateur last week. “The monarchy which my son will inherit will not be the same as the one I inherited.”

The turnout in Wednesday’s vote will be a marker for the confidence the Jordanian people have in their rulers’ plans.

After Friday’s Muslim Brotherhood rally, Hamza Mansour, general secretary of the Islamic Action Front, told FRANCE 24 that his party, while unsatisfied with the pace or scope of reforms, would always respect the king’s role.

“We make sure that relations with the king are positive and we want him to remain the king of all Jordanians,” he said. “But we want him to adopt the demands of the people, and I think communications with us have never been so difficult.”

Date created : 2013-01-22

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