Tribal movement wins Jordan vote, Islamists to protest

AMMAN Thu Jan 24, 2013 7:11pm GMT

1 of 6. Ahmed Safadi, who won a seat in parliamentary elections, celebrates with his supporters in Amman January 24, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ali Jarekji

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday promised more street protests to demand electoral reform, after pro-government candidates coasted to victory in elections that the Islamist group boycotted as unfair.

State television said most of the 150 seats contested in Wednesday's vote were won by independents, candidates with limited political agendas who rely on family and tribal allegiances rather than party backing.

The growth of tribalism as a political force in Jordan has blunted the emergence of national parties and curbed the influence of the Brotherhood

"We won't deviate from our goals. We are moving ahead in our path. Popular street agitation will continue until we achieve our goals," the Brotherhood's deputy leader Zaki Bani Rusheid said.

Jordan has seen major demonstrations against corruption that were critical of King Abdullah, though not on the scale of those that toppled Arab rulers in Egypt and Tunisia and led to civil wars in Libya and Syria.

The protesters have focused on reforming government and limiting King Abdullah's powers rather than ousting the U.S.-backed monarch.

The Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing in Jordan and the country's largest opposition party, shunned the election because it said the electoral law was designed to curb its influence.

Bani Rusheid said the new parliament was no different from previous rubber-stamp assemblies packed by government loyalists.

"This assembly has the same credentials of the previous one in its weakness and lack of will in practicing its constitutional role in legislation and making governments accountable," the Islamist figure told Reuters.

"The biggest absentee was the will of the people. The disappointment with the assembly will be quick and faster than people expect."

A 50-strong international observation team fielded by the USAID-funded National Democratic Institute also raised some of the concerns of the Islamist opposition about the election.

"The unequal size of districts and an electoral system that amplifies family, tribal and national cleavages limit the development of a truly national legislative body and challenge King Abdullah's stated aim of encouraging full parliamentary government," the mission said in a report on Thursday.

Turnout for was 56 percent of the country's 2.3 million registered voters, according to officials.

TOWN VERSUS COUNTRY

The Islamic Action Front said last year it would boycott the polls after the tribal-dominated parliament passed a electoral law that magnified the clout of native Jordanian constituencies at the expense of cities.

Urban areas are home to many citizens of Palestinian origin and which tend to be Islamist strongholds.

The Islamists say only a fraction of Jordan's eligible voters cast their ballots and that another 2.4 million eligible voters did not register to vote on Wednesday in Jordan's first parliamentary election since the Arab uprisings.

Islamists draw more support in the densely populated cities, where most of the country's 7 million population live, and voting is more along political and ideological lines.

In the major cities, including the capital, all strongholds of the country's most organised political grouping, turnout figures averaged around 40 percent. In sparsely populated rural and Bedouin areas it was more than 70 percent.

Officials said the elections were a milestone in democratic reforms espoused by the king and dismissed suggestions the new parliament would give an easy ride to the government.

"The results show we have gone a long way in creating confidence in the electoral process," said Abdulillah al-Khatib, the head of the electoral commission that oversaw the polls.

King Abdullah will for the first time consult the new parliament when he picks a government as part of constitutional changes devolving his prerogatives to parliament which critics said had been sidelined. The monarch appoints prime ministers.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour is expected to resign but be kept on as caretaker premier until a new government is formed when parliament convenes in mid-February.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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