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Jordan Islamists shun election, demand political reform

Jan. 19, 2013 10:04 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 19, 2013 10:04 A.M.)
By: Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN, Jordan (Reuters) -- Jordanian Islamists, who will boycott next week's parliamentary election, called on Friday for a fairer electoral law and for political reforms that would end King Abdullah's power to choose governments.

About 2,000 Islamists and some tribesmen and leftists protested in Amman against Wednesday's vote for a new 150-seat assembly, which they said was meaningless given electoral rules that ensure Jordan's cities will be under-represented.

"Our people have no say. For the last two years, our masses have demanded change so that people will have real power to choose their rulers," Sheikh Hammam Said, the head of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, told the crowd.

"Don't impose your failed governments on people," he said, referring to King Abdullah. "These governments that have committed corruption should be held accountable. There is no legitimacy for any government not chosen by the people."

Activists at the protest in the capital waved banners reading "No to cosmetic elections that circumvent our reform demands" and "We are boycotting for the sake of change".

The boycott by Jordan's main opposition Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the next parliament.

The Front announced last year it would shun the polls after the tribal-dominated parliament passed a electoral law that magnifies the voting clout of native Jordanian constituencies at the expense of cities, which are home to many citizens of Palestinian origin and which tend to be Islamist strongholds..

More than two thirds of Jordan's seven people live in cities but are allocated less than a third of assembly seats.

Reform pledges

The Islamist boycott has reduced the election to a contest between tribal leaders, establishment figures and independent businessmen, with just a few of the 1,500 candidates running for recognised parties. Allegations of vote-buying are rife.

King Abdullah said this week he wanted to move faster on promises of democratic reforms and supported the idea of governments whose prime minister would emerge from a majority bloc in parliament, rather than being handpicked by him.

"Our constitutional monarchy has changed," the king said.

However, the previous parliament had resisted attempts to increase the number of seats set aside for political party lists, seeing this as a threat to tribal interests.

Jordanians will go to the polls amid economic gloom only two months after steep fuel price rises ignited widespread civil unrest, mainly in tribal areas that traditionally support the monarchy and rely heavily on state employment and welfare.

Unlike some Arab countries, Jordan has avoided any full-scale uprising in the past two years, but demonstrators voiced unprecedented calls to end King Abdullah's rule during the price protests in November, which have since subsided.

Protests led by the Brotherhood and dissident tribesmen have mostly demanded free elections and a crackdown on corruption.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said the "self-defeating" election boycott would cost the opposition a chance to win up to a quarter of assembly seats and to press their case from within.

"It's a pity they are boycotting. We tried to dissuade them but they chose this path," Ensour said in remarks published on Friday, adding that fair polls were crucial to restore credibility dented by vote-rigging in previous elections.
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