Jordan's king wants more representative parliament after boycott

AMMAN Sun Feb 10, 2013 3:43pm GMT

1 of 3. The Bedouin honour guard greets Jordan's King Abdullah upon his arrival to the opening of the first session for the new parliament in Amman February 10, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ali Jarekji

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's king on Sunday called for electoral changes to make parliament more representative, after Islamists boycotted last month's national poll saying rules were skewed against urban areas where they have most support.

Independents and candidates allied to Jordan's powerful tribal establishment, which is strongest in the countryside, won most seats in the national elections January 23, after the Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing in Jordan and the country's largest opposition party, shunned the vote.

King Abdullah, who has close relations with the United States, told the opening session of the 150-member assembly, the first to be elected since the Arab Spring, that electoral rules must change to nurture multi-party democracy.

"The elections were held under a law that was not ideal ... Therefore I call for revisiting this law and reviewing the electoral system in a way that wins consensus, promotes fair representation," the monarch told the assembly.

The elections were the first since the king enacted constitutional changes last year devolving some of his powers to parliament, which critics said had become sidelined as powers shifted to the palace and security forces.

But Jordan's tribal political establishment resisted the king's efforts to grant a higher proportion of parliamentary seats to cities dominated by Jordanians of Palestinian origin, who make up a majority of the population of seven million.

Jordanians of native descent enjoy preferential access to state jobs and government funds, although businesses owned by citizens of Palestinian origin are pillars of the economy.

Constitutional change came after protests against corruption and critical of King Abdullah. Though inspired by the Arab Spring, they were not on the scale of those that toppled rulers in Egypt and Tunisia and sparked civil war in Libya and Syria.

Jordan's native elite is wary of Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, with its demand for political reform.

The electoral law as it stands gives disproportionate representation to sparsely populated rural tribal and Bedouin areas - the bedrock of support for the Hashemite dynasty.

Only twenty percent of seats were won by Jordanians of Palestinian origin and their resentment could strengthen the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a strong following among poor Palestinians living in camps.

The Muslim Brotherhood says it is not turning its back on democracy but protesting what it called meaningless elections.

Abdullah said he hoped the emergence of parliamentary blocs in the next few days would allow him to consult with deputies for the first time before he appoints a new prime minister.

The king remains for many citizens the ultimate guarantor of stability in Jordan, whose neighbours include Israel, civil-war torn Syria, and an Iraq also riven by sectarian strife.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Jason webb)

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