Jordan's king rejects 'distortion' of assembly

King Abdullah II of Jordan defends the country's new parliament but urged it to amend the electoral law that has come under criticism from Islamists.

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AMMAN // King Abdullah II of Jordan defended the country's new parliament yesterday but urged it to amend the electoral law that has come under criticism from Islamists.

In a speech formally inaugurating the new assembly, the king condemned attacks on the legislature, saying, "We do not accept any distortion of its image among the people."

At the same time, the 48-year-old monarch urged "reform that increases public participation in the decision-making process," according to an official English-language transcript.

Earlier this month, Jordanians elected a new, 120-seat parliament after campaigning that was marred by unrest and a boycott by the opposition Islamic Action Front. The election was the fourth under King Abdullah, who ascended the throne in 1999 vowing to transform the kingdom into a model democracy in the Muslim world.

Official election results showed ex-lawmakers and Cabinet ministers sweeping a third of the parliamentary seats. After the outcome was announced, riots broke out in four towns north of Amman, as protesters burned tyres, smashed vehicles, and pelted security forces with stones.

Yesterday, the king said parliament could "amend" a temporary election law "as necessary to render this central legislation more conducive to advancing our democratic reforms, and adopt it as a permanent law. The November 9 election was conducted under the first system, which has been strongly criticized as unfair by the Islamic Action Front.

Pro-government loyalists kept control of the parliament after sweeping the vote, and a government with 11 new faces in the 31-member cabinet, including three women, took the oath of office last week.

Despite the king's remarks about taking measures to broaden political participation in Jordan, he said that economic reforms would remain his top priority as Jordan faces "enormous" economic challenges, partly caused by the global recession.

Jordan's monarch also said that his country would continue to stand by the Palestinians. Jordan is the only Arab state that has reached pace with Israel, but there are fears here that if peacemaking collapses, Israel will try to force Jordan to take in the residents of the West Bank and stand as the Palestinian state. Recent talk by right-wing Israelis about the "Jordanian option" has only reinforced that belief here that this is Israel's ultimate plan.

The king made it clear yesterday where a Palestinian state should be located.

"We will do all we can to help them put an end to occupation, to lift the injustice, and to establish their independent state on their national soil, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative and international law, and within a regional context that ensures comprehensive peace," he said.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press