Jordanian Vote Reform Vexes Brotherhood (NY) TIMES) By RANA F. SWEIS AMMAN 04/19/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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AMMAN — For Osama Hasoun, 23, protesting has become a weekly affair.
Nearly every Friday afternoon, he prays at Amman’s popular Grand
Husseini Mosque. Afterward, he carefully folds his prayer mat, puts
on his black shoes and blends into the crowd.
Revolutions that began last year in Tunisia and spread across the
region also sparked protests and strikes in countries like Jordan.
Opposition groups have called for comprehensive political reform and
greater popular representation but mostly stop short of demanding the
ouster of the regime.
In an effort to respond to these pressures, the Jordanian government
recently submitted a draft of a new election law to Parliament after
appointing a national dialogue committee to overhaul the system. Once
the new law is passed, elections are expected to take place by the
end of this year. How the campaign unfolds will be a key test of
whether the government is serious about reform.
It already looks doubtful that the changes will put an end to
cynicism about the electoral process. That is in part because the new
system may continue to put fetters on political parties and
opposition groups, including the Islamic Action Front, the political
wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The I.A.F. was particularly incensed
by a recent move in the Parliament to bar religious parties.
“These developments may have dire consequences for Jordanian
politics, including a boycott by the Islamic Action Front,” said
Marwan Shehadeh, a political analyst and expert on Islamic movements.
In a statement, the I.A.F. secretary general, Hamza Mansour, said
that the latest moves by the government were “unjustified and
illogical,” but that no decision had yet been taken to boycott the
The existing election law has been criticized for favoring regime
loyalists and tribal leaders because of gerrymandering that tilts
toward conservative rural districts over the capital, Amman, and
other urban areas, where Palestinians and Brotherhood supporters are
concentrated. The result has been a Parliament of individuals rather
than parties and one that favors the so-called East Bankers, or
tribal Jordanians. The system also erected high hurdles for political
parties because of obstacles to licensing and limited access to seats.
“The Parliament needs to take into consideration the sensitivities
and remove all articles in the new law that encourages discrimination
and division among society,” said Mohammad Sweiden, assistant
managing editor of Al Ghad, an Amman daily.
The lower house of Parliament is elected while the upper house is
appointed by the king, who also appoints and dismisses prime
ministers and cabinets. The powers of the legislative bodies are now
being debated. In the past, the Senate or the king had a veto over
bills passed in the lower house.
At a press conference last week, Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh said
that under the new law voters would be able to cast three ballots
instead of one as is the case now. Two would be for individual
candidates in the voter’s district and one for a political party or
national coalition. The number of seats reserved for women would be
raised to 15 from 12, and the total number of seats in Parliament
increased to 138 from 120.
“The goal is to help political parties and coalitions place
themselves on the country’s political map,” Mr. Khasawneh said.
But for people like Mr. Hasoun, the protester, the debate about the
new law has little meaning. “I am protesting against a new elections
law that was announced by the government,” said Mr. Hasoun as he
walked slowly among a few thousand people. “It will not ensure fair
Critics complain that despite the prime minister’s assurances the new
law limits political parties to a tiny number of seats. Indeed, each
of the 23 political parties, which range from Socialists to
Islamists, can only enter five candidates for the 15 seats allocated
nationally to parties and coalitions. That means most candidates
cannot officially be on party lists.
The government’s trickiest problem in gaining acceptance for the
reforms may be its approach to Jordan’s largest opposition group, the
Muslim Brotherhood. On April 16, lawmakers voted to add an article to
the new law to forbid the establishment of any political party on
a “religious, ethnic or sectarian basis.” On the face of it, the
measure would disqualify the I.A.F., the Brotherhood-affiliated
party, from taking part in the elections. But its members might still
run as individuals or the party may change its name to remove its
A tense game is now likely between the government and the Brotherhood
over whether a way can be found to bring the Brotherhood into the
elections or whether the organization stays out.
“The I.A.F. will have to think hard before deciding to boycott the
upcoming elections, because the country is passing through a very
crucial time, and they will be left out,” said Bassam Hadaddin, a
legislator who voted to ban religious parties. He believes that a
compromise may be reached that keeps the Brotherhood in the game but
“They want to pressure the government to make sure they have the
highest representation possible and win as many seats as possible, ”
Mr. Hadaddin said. “At the same time for the Parliament to be truly
representative of the people, it is crucial that the I.A.F. join the
The government is considering some concessions to try to ease
concerns. For instance, the Interior Ministry may lose its monopoly
over the licensing of political parties. The number of people
required to form a party may be cut from 250 to 200, and the minimum
age of members reduced from 21 to 18. Monitoring of political
activity by the securities services is to be eased.
In Jordan, commentators are divided, some denouncing the new rules,
others arguing for patience. “At least the new law indicates there is
a need for political parties to participate in Jordanian politics,”
said Osama Rantesi, an editor and political columnist at Arab Al
Yawm, a daily newspaper.
But other voices warn that the government is taking a risk by only
instituting modest reforms. “Clearly there is a power struggle
between those who want reform and those who benefit from the status
quo in the country,” said Mr. Shehadeh, the political analyst. “The
latest developments this week go against the promise of true
political reform in Jordan after the Arab Spring.” (Copyright 2012
The New York Times Company 04/19/12)
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