Agence France Presse
AMMAN: Jordan’s boycott by Islamists of Tuesday’s general election means they may now resort to a tougher stance outside Parliament, posing a threat to stability in the kingdom, analysts said.
“The Islamists now might weigh the option of adopting a tough opposition which could cross or ignore some red lines” traditionally respected in their relationship with the state, Oreib Rintawi, director of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, told AFP.
“If this happens, we will see a new era in relations between the Islamists and the state, as well as extreme elements seeking to promote their ideology and type of opposition.”
A former official agreed with Rintawi. “If the Islamists continue to boycott the legislature, they might seek to take underground action, and the country could ultimately face the risk of becoming unstable,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But the government appeared confident, with Information Minister Ali Ayed saying he was “not worried at all about such a scenario.”
The Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, is boycotting the election in protest at the constituency boundaries set for the polls.
It says these over-represent rural areas considered loyal to the government at the expense of urban areas regarded as Islamist strongholds.
The IAF complains that an electoral law adopted in May returned to a previous controversial voting system. Efforts by Prime Minister Samir Rifai to persuade the party to field candidates despite the law failed to sway them.
Nawaf Tel, director of the University of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies, said “in-fighting” within the Islamic movement was behind the boycott.
“Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has urged Jordanian Islamists to participate in elections to make sure he has ally MPs,” Tel told AFP.
“This created divisions within the movement. The hawks wanted to take part in the polls, while the doves pushed for the boycott to thwart the Hamas plan.”
Jordanian Islamists are close to the Palestinian movement Hamas that now controls the Gaza Strip, while the government in Amman supports the Fatah faction of President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank.
Around half of Jordan’s 6.3 million people are of Palestinian origin.
At the launch of the democratization process in Jordan 21 years ago, the country’s Islamists participated en masse in a November 1989 general election and won 30 percent of seats in the lower house of Parliament.
Since then, their presence in Parliament has declined, while at the same time their influence outside the lower house has grown, according to experts.
The Islamists blame their decline on the controversial one-person-one-vote system first adopted in 1993, saying it sought to limit their influence in Parliament, a year before Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty.
Under this system, although there may be more than one seat in a constituency, voters are allowed to choose only one candidate. Before 1993, they were able to vote for all seats in their constituency.
“Jordan is a United States ally and depends on financial aid from Western countries. It cannot afford to have a parliament openly hostile to the West,” a former official said.
The Islamist calls for reform are not likely to go unheard by the public, as Jordan faces an acute economic crisis with a record budget deficit of $2 billion and a foreign debt of $11 billion, or nearly 60 percent of GDP.
But they do not see eye to eye with the state, which seeks to modernize the country and pass laws giving more rights to women and liberalizing the market.
“The Islamists are focusing on the new generation. They have opened private schools that emphasize religion classes and require female students to wear veils,” said the official.
“Their competitive school fees have attracted the middle class which is avoiding public schools because they do not provide a good education,” he added, warning against “Islamist attempts to control education in Jordan.”
Around 2.5 million Jordanians, nearly half of them women, have registered to vote to choose from 763 candidates including 134 women, according to the Interior Ministry.
By Agence France Presse (AFP)