Jordan goes to the polls with opposition missing

Islamists have boycotted the elections in protest over constituency boundaries they say favour areas loyal to the government.

AMMAN // Jordan is preparing to elect a loyalist and opposition-free parliament next week, which analysts say will affect reform, while the Islamists, who have boycotted the polls, urge "public pressure" to achieve change.

Hamzeh Mansur, secretary general of the main opposition party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, said: "There is no will for reform and we need public pressure to push decision makers for reform.

"The lower house of parliament is no longer the right means to achieve reform because it will work in line with the law that will create it. Reform cannot be achieved unless there is real public pressure by all possible, lawful means."

The government faces little challenge in the elections on November 9 after the Islamist opposition pulled out. An overwhelming majority of the candidates, around 800 in all, including 138 women, are close to the regime.

Around seven Islamist candidates have registered to stand as independents, defying the boycott but they face expulsion from the powerful IAF.

The IAF leadership ordered the boycott in protest at the constituency boundaries set for the polls, which it says over-represent rural areas considered loyal to the government at the expense of urban areas regarded as Islamist strongholds.

To the dismay of the IAF, the electoral law adopted in May returned to the controversial voting system used in 1998. Efforts by Jordan's prime minister, Samir Rifai, to persuade the party to field candidates despite the law failed to secure a change of heart.

Senate president Taher Masri told AFP: "The boycott by the Islamists, the main opposition group in Jordan, means that we are heading for a parliament without organised opposition.

Mr Masri, who was prime minister in 1992, "The declared reason behind the boycott is the law, but the truth is that the Islamists want to appear as the sole political party that is capable of pressuring the government and pushing for reform."

The Jordanian parliament has an elected 120-member lower house and a 60-member senate, which is appointed by the king.

A Jordanian political analyst said "The most dangerous thing is the defiance of the Islamists, who will work to delegitimise parliament and lobby Jordanians to create a reform movement outside legislative bodies.

"This can only be dangerous because the king himself is a reformist who uses progressive constitutional means. In this context, the attitude of Islamists is a challenge to this process."

Jordan has been without a parliament since November last year, when King Abdullah II, dissolved the legislature and called an election two years early following months of press allegations about the ineffectiveness and, in some cases, corruption of MPs.

It was the second time the king had dissolved parliament early since he ascended the throne in 1999.

For Mohammed Momani, professor of political science at Yarmouk University, the "one-colour elections will still pass, credible and transparent."

The government has repeatedly said it is committed to holding fair elections and accepted the presence of foreign observers.

Experts say fraud and vote rigging are unlikely because the majority of candidates are loyalist and the government has no interest in interfering in the process.

Professor Momani said: "The coming parliament will include individual and unorganised opposition of leftists who are loyal to the state but oppose the government.

"The situation will still be within a manageable framework. But I do worry in the long run if the Islamists continue to boycott the legislature."

More than 2.6 million Jordanians, nearly half of them women, have registered to vote in the election, according to the interior ministry.