Islamists and the Jordanian King at Loggerheads Over Elections

by Adam Nicky

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Muslim Brotherhood set to boycott parliamentary elections

With just three days left ahead of Jordanian parliamentary elections, King Abdullah and representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party the Islamic Action Front (IAC), who are boycotting the election, are on a collision course ahead of the vote.

After failing to attract the Islamist movement to run in the polls, which he promotes as fruit of the Arab Spring, King Abdullah this week appeared to have given up on the IAC. The pro-Western monarch accused them of seeking to establish a “religious dictatorship” and said he didn’t trust the Islamists.

“I am not worried about the Islamists winning in the elections. I am worried about pluralism and an exchange of power” that might result from such a victory, Abdullah said in a January 13 interview with the French magazine L’Observoire. He also expressed concern about how much change such a victory would bring to the country.

Meanwhile, the state-controlled media has been leading a smear campaign against the Islamist movement ahead of the polls.

Jordanian officials point out that the January 23 elections will lead to the creation of the country’s first parliamentary government. The king would name a prime minister to form a government that includes members of parliament, and retain the right to name and dismiss the prime minister.

Jordan elects its parliament every four years to choose 150 MPs in the lower house, while the king appoints the upper house with 50 senators forming the legislative authority. It remains unclear how many MPs would join the new government, but lists of candidates show former officials and businessmen leading the race in the absence of powerful opposition.

Wary of the possible negative effects of an Arab Spring in Jordan, Abdullah’s spokesmen argue that gradual reforms are safer in a country surrounded by major powers struggling for Mideast interests.

“The region is facing an uncertain future. We don’t know where Syria is heading and countries that saw change in the Arab Spring are suffering,” a senior government official told the Media Line.

“The king is determined to go ahead with his vision of reform. He has said that his son will not inherit the monarchy as he did,” the official added, referring to opposition demands that the king relinquish his constitutional powers that allow him to form governments.

Over the past two years, Abdullah endorsed amendments to the constitution, including that the king can sack the parliament only once in four years and the government must resign after parliamentary elections, and he established an independent electoral committee that promised fair and free elections.

The opposition accuses the king of procrastinating and exploiting the Syrian storm to block fundamental change.

It wants quick reforms including trimming the king’s powers, separation between authorities to shield judicial authority and the parliament from government interference, and a fair elections law.

“The so-called concessions, including the constitutional court, etc….[are] like a camel that gave birth to a mouse. We expected too much and got so little,” Kathem Ayash, a member of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood Shura Council, the highest governing body of the group, told The Media Line.

“This is an arrogant attitude. The state says we give you this little and we have to be happy for it. We will not take part in this political process,” he added.

The Islamist movement said this week it plans to organize a major rally in downtown Amman against the elections, but vowed not to hold protests on election day, a sign it might not be acting as strongly as expected.

The highly publicized polls are expected to do little to defuse tension between maneuvering authorities and stubborn opposition, said political analyst and researcher Mohammed Imran.

“Jordan will remain in the same place as two years ago, when the Arab Spring started. The kingdom is headed to the unknown in such a situation,” argues Imran.

Islamist movement opponents say the group’s bark is bigger than its bite, accusing Shura Council President Abdul Latif Arabiyat, IAF party leader Hamza Mansour and other senior Islamists of failing to live up to their status as the biggest opposition party in the kingdom.

“Street protestations look more like a formality than a genuine expression of anger by the public. The Islamist movement has been treading so carefully that they are becoming powerless,” said Rami Rafeeq, a leader from the Jordan professional association.

Other opposition groups including some leftist parties have insignificant support.

Besides the planned election boycott, the Muslim Brotherhood has been enduring its own internal strife. Some party leaders say it supports peacefully achieving political rights and recently some said they are not seeking to overthrow the regime.

A melting pot for immigrants from around the region, Jordan has survived the bloody ripples of the Arab Spring that have occurred in other Arab countries.

King Abdullah takes his authority and powers from a general belief among the seven million inhabitants that the royal family is the safest option for a country built by refugees from what is today Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Armenia, Chechnya and elsewhere seeking safety.

However, young opposition activists from Jordan University’s student council say they want better than their parents had, insisting the king must face the inevitable and change.

Copyright © 2013 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

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