Jordan’s rebranded Muslim Brotherhood could stage election comeback

Broad coalition of Islamists and Christians could win up to a fifth of seats in Jordanian parliament.
A Jordanian man casts his vote at a polling station for parliamentary elections in Amman, Jordan on September 20, 2016. Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
A Jordanian man casts his vote at a polling station for parliamentary elections in Amman, Jordan on September 20, 2016. Muhammad Hamed / Reuters

AMMAN // Jordan’s Islamist opposition could emerge from Tuesday’s parliamentary election with renewed influence after surviving government attempts to ban it as part of a wider crackdown on radical groups.

The group could win up to a fifth of seats in the parliament after ditching its “Islam is the Solution” slogan and joining with Christians to create a broad-based civic grouping: The National Coalition for Reform.

The election represents a modest step in the democratisation process launched by King Abdullah as he seeks to insulate Jordan from the conflicts at its borders, but will show the resilience of Islamists in the face of heavy state restrictions.

Electoral laws that favour tribal areas rather than the cities where Islamists enjoy most support mean they are unlikely to dominate the poll, but they could still shake up Jordan’s parliament.

Voting was extended by an hour in 15 of 23 districts, including the cities of Amman, Irbid and Zarqa.

More than 4.1 million Jordanians older than 17 were eligible to vote, but those presently abroad — about 1 million according to election commission spokesman Jihad Momani — cannot cast ballots. By 7pm, 1.42 million Jordanians had voted.

The potential voter pool was half that size in 2013, when voters had to preregister and turnout reached 56 per cent.

Voter Nour Al Ghwairi, 44, said she hoped the new parliament would tackle Jordan’s economic difficulties, such as rising joblessness, particularly among the young. “The country suffers from unemployment and other problems,” she said after voting in the Jabal Hussein neighbourhood of the capital, Amman.

Elsewhere in central Amman, 71-year-old Othman Abu Felah said he did not bother voting because “it doesn’t help anything.”

Katrina Sammour, a political researcher, said she would cast a blank ballot in protest because she believes parliament is weak and no party or list addresses her concerns.

Prime minister Hani Al Mulki, appointed in May after the king dissolved the outgoing parliament, said that Jordan is proud to hold elections in a stable atmosphere.

“We resort to ballot boxes and to the electoral process to select the path for the future, and we don’t resort to anything else,” he said.

Tuesday’s election is being held under new rules that replace the “one man, one vote” system. The old method, in place since 1993, had discouraged the formation of political parties.

Critics said the latest electoral reforms have fallen short and are unlikely to lead to meaningful change.

They said they expect the new parliament to be similar to the outgoing one — largely made up of individuals with competing, narrow interests.

Under new voting rules, voters chose candidates from lists in 23 electoral districts. In all, 1,252 candidates ran on 226 lists.

Only six per cent of the lists are affiliated with a specific political party, 11 per cent have some party representatives, 39 per cent are independent and 43 per cent are based on tribal affiliations, according to the International Republican Institute, a US-based democracy monitor.

“While there might be some consolidation compared to previous parliaments, you are still going to see a parliament of individuals,” said Ramsey Day, the IRI’s Jordan director. He said this is “somewhat inconsistent” with what has been cited as the ultimate goal of democratic reforms, a government formed by parliament.

The Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the group expects to win at least a quarter of the seats and serve as a vocal opposition, while analysts expected they would win about 20 seats. The group boycotted elections in 2010 and 2013, saying electoral laws were unfair.

In Jordan, ideological arguments split the group into rival factions, with one of the breakaways recognised by the government as the official Brotherhood.

The IAF’s Zaki Bani Ersheid, a senior Brotherhood official, said he believes a strong showing for the movement would increase “confidence in the legislative institution, and confidence between the people and the government.”

*Reuters and Associated Press

Published: September 20, 2016 04:00 AM

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