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Jordan's Parliamentary Elections and the Muslim Brotherhood

Middle East In Focus

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On November 9, Jordanians went to the voting booths to elect 120 members of the country's lower house. The elections were called two years earlier than scheduled, after King Abdullah dissolved the previous parliament in November 2009 following complaints of corruption among MPs. According to Prime Minister Samir Rifai, "The results of Tuesday’s election illustrate the public’s desire for positive change.… [T]his message was reflected in the fact that nearly 70 percent of the newly elected deputies are newcomers, as well as by the robust participation of women and youths."

For some, though, that change has yet to come. In particular, women candidates failed to make any headway beyond the 12 seats that were reserved for them under the electoral law. According to news reports, “The 134 women who ran for election …will soon find out that it is mostly the quota system that enabled them to get to parliament once the results are final. In the previous parliament, six places were allocated for women but only one won her seat outside the quota system, which grants the seats to the female candidate who gets the highest votes. But a lack of trust when it comes to women's role in politics persists.”

The elections were also marred by violent clashes in various parts of the country. Jordan Times reports that “riots erupted on Wednesday in the northern city of Jerash protesting election results in their areas after the final lists of winners were announced. An eyewitness, who requested anonymity, told The Jordan Times over the phone that a group of protesters were blocking the Amman-Irbid highway near the villages of Balila and Kufur Khal.” Other news agencies reported that “a 25-year-old man [was] shot dead and two others wounded in clashes between rival supporters in the southern city of Karak. Clashes also broke out in different parts of the kingdom, including Amman.”

But perhaps the most controversial aspect of Tuesday’s election was the decision taken by the opposition Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, to boycott the elections. This is why, despite the government’s upbeat assessment about the election’s mandate and the voter turnout, some observers caution that, while the electoral outcome might strengthen the hand of the government in the short term, it might ultimately prove destabilizing

Even though seven IAF members defied the leadership’s decision and ran as independents (of which only one won a seat), the overwhelming majority of IAF rank and file participated in the boycott of the election. Thus, IAF leader Hamzah Mansur told the AP, “The government has announced a 53-percent turnout, but in my opinion the actual turnout did not exceed 30 percent. The new Lower House will not be better this time, as vote-buying and fraud played a major role in the election."

The IAF decision to boycott the elections was taken after the government promulgated a new electoral law in May that they claim was designed to limit their influence. The law, which some suggested early on would be helpful to the Muslim Brotherhood, “maintains the controversial one-man one-vote system in which a citizen may vote for only one candidate. While the law does change the way electoral districts are formed, gerrymandering remains a major concern.” According to an article published in the weekly The Majalla, some analysts “reject the government’s contention that the new system will curb tribalism. Instead, they predict that with smaller sub-districts, candidates will now rely more on their tribal affiliations and campaign among a smaller pool of core familial voters than before.  Meanwhile, tribes are expected to try to divide seats among themselves prior to the election, potentially inflaming tensions within and among tribes.”

The question now is this: With the largest opposition bloc out of the parliament, who will play the role of the opposition in the upcoming assembly? Abdul Jalil Mustafa writes in Arab News that the responsibility would fall on “a handful of winning candidates, who represented small opposition parties or relied on tribal support [and who] could form an embryonic opposition in the absence of the influential Muslim Brotherhood movement and its political arm.” Whether that is likely to happen remains to be seen. One thing is certain: unlike its sister organization in Egypt, Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood has decided that boycotting the election is the best way forward.

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