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Middle East

New elections for Jordan

Jordan's King Abdullah II has dissolved parliament, paving the way for new elections. Despite calling for reforms, the opposition Muslim Brotherhood is boycotting the vote.

The announcement by the King of Jordan was not surprising. Again and again he had spoken out in recent months for a new parliamentary election. That's because the Jordanian parliament was regarded as weak; for many people in the constitutional monarchy, announced reforms were not being implemented quickly enough. The solution is a new parliament, likely to be elected before the end of this year.

Limited parliamentary seats for parties

Thousands of people gather for a demonstration in Amman (EPA/Jamal Nasrallah/dpa)

Thousands turned out in Amman on October 5

Whether the new parliament can be more effective is a matter of debate. A new electoral law was passed in July, allowing more members to be elected according to party lists. But the composition of the parliament is unlikely to change much, because the vast majority of the 150 seats will be reserved for individual candidates. They are usually committed to their clans and are close to the royal family.

"No party can achieve real strength in parliament," said Achim Vogt, office director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Jordan. "Real changes will therefore be very difficult."

This angers the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood in particular. Its party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), is regarded as the best-organized force in Jordan. It already announced it would boycott the election. No wonder: A development like in Egypt or Tunisia, where the Islamists were able to win many seats, is impossible in Jordan. Each party will be granted a maximum of five seats in parliament.

Demonstrations for reform

Together with other groups, the Muslim Brotherhood on Friday (05.10.2012) announced a demonstration for fundamental reform of the political system. In front of the Al-Husseini mosque in the capital, Amman, the protesters held a large banner in the air demanding, among other things, a "democratic right to vote, constitutional amendments, an independent judiciary, a constitutional court and a fight against corruption."

"The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to ensure that it can better participate in the political process," Vogt said. "Its political goals are not liberal democracy. The Muslim Brothers want a society that is more strongly based on religion. And that can be called democratic in only a very limited sense."

With around 10,000 participants, the demonstration was far weaker than the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies had hoped. They had expected there would be up to 50,000 participants.

No protest against the king

Protesters at the demonstration in Amman (EPA/Jamal Nasrallah/dpa)

The Muslim Brotherhood expected more protesters

But not only the Islamists, some leftist and pro-market groups are criticizing Jordanian policies. In contrast, the more conservative groups fear that they would lose influence through political reform. "They fear a sell-out of the country to the Muslim Brotherhood, left-wing groups and to the Palestinians," Vogt said.

Despite the criticism of the Jordanian policies, no social group is demanding the overthrow of King Abdullah II. "The king forms a kind of umbrella over the various population groups," Vogt said, alluding to the so-called Transjordanians and Jordanians of Palestinian descent who are the majority in the country.

"The function of the king is in fact recognized by all social groups, including the opposition. They want reform, but not a revolution, and not an overthrow of the system," Vogt added.

At its own pace

That the protests in Amman were largely peaceful is a relief for many Jordanians. "Jordan has proved that protests are peaceful. God bless and protect Jordan against fraud," Alaa Kurdi wrote on Twitter.

The victory of the Islamists in Egypt and the events in Syria may have contributed to this attitude. And that's another reason why the Royal Palace, which since early 2011 has avoided any violent suppression of the various protest movements, can largely determine the pace of reform in Jordan itself.

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