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Islamist boycott clouds Jordan general election

Jordanian Islamists say they will not participate in 23 January legislative election as they are fed up with empty promises and failures of past parliaments

AFP , Monday 21 Jan 2013
Jordan
A woman stands beside electoral posters for parliamentary candidates in Amman January 20, 2013. ( Photo: Reuters)
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Jordanians go the polls on Wednesday, but an Islamist boycott is expected to produce a toothless parliament that is unlikely to bring real reform, leaving the country in political uncertainty.

Jordan has high hopes for the election, seeking to turn it into the pivot of a reform process aimed at fending off protests inspired by Arab Spring revolts that have toppled four regimes.

But a boycott by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups such as the National Reform Front of former premier and intelligence chief Ahmad Obeidat cast a long shadow over the process.

"Previous parliaments have proven their incapability of introducing reform and change. The coming parliament is no exception. It could be the worst," Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy leader of the Brotherhood, told AFP.

"Many people will not vote and the political scene will be more frustrating. Any hope of establishing real political life as a foundation for parliamentary governments is illusory."

Tribal leaders, pro-regime figures and independent businessmen are expected to sweep the election.

The Islamist boycott is in protest at constituency boundaries that they call unfair, and at the failure to move towards a constitutional monarchy with an elected premier rather than one named by the king.

"We do not seek the overthrow of the regime. We want to reform the regime. Our boycott was the right decision because a parliament or government that is imposed on people is illegitimate. A comprehensive national dialogue is the solution," Bani Rsheid said.

According to the constitution, elections are supposed to take place every four years, but Jordan also held early polls in 2010 after the king dissolved parliament.

The Brotherhood boycotted those polls also, in protest at constituency boundaries which they say over-represent loyalist rural areas at the expense of urban areas seen as Islamist bastions.

"We hoped to see elections under a national accord that would produce powerful MPs and put reform on the right track. But that is not the case," analyst Oraib Rintawi, who runs the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, told AFP.

"The coming election will add to problems instead of solving them, particularly under the boycott. We will see a parliament that does not have political weight."

More than 2.27 million voters registered to choose from around 1,500 candidates vying for 150 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Jordan has a population of 6.8 million, of whom 3.1 million are entitled to vote.

"I think the turnout will be low. People are worried about the economy, poverty and unemployment, and the 'what happens politically' does not encourage (people) to vote," Rintawi said.

Jordan has been largely spared the kind of protests that have swept eastwards from Tunisia across the Arab world since early 2011, but it still sees regular demonstrations demanding political and economic reform and an end to corruption.

"The opposition will keep expressing themselves in the street, escalating without violence. And I think their first protest after the elections will demand the dissolution of parliament, which brings us back to square one," Rintawi said.

Political analyst Labib Kamhawi said the election will be "disappointing."

"The Islamists are boycotting the polls because they are not in their interest. But others are boycotting them because the entire process is undemocratic," Kamhawi told AFP.

"The result will be disappointing to the people because they feel there is no will for genuine reform."

King Abdullah II told AFP in an exclusive interview in September the Islamist boycott was a "tremendous miscalculation," and urged all Jordanians to take part in the election to boost reform.

"We are not trying to delude people and tell them that the coming parliament will be perfect," Information Minister and government spokesman Samih Maaytah told AFP.

"The election is a gate to further reforms. It is not the end of reforms. Boycotting the polls is not a solution."

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