Jordan's Islamist opposition expected to make gains in polls

AMMAN • Jordan's moderate Islamist opposition could emerge from parliamentary elections with renewed influence after surviving government attempts to ban it as part of a wider crackdown on political Islam, analysts said.

The group could win up to a fifth of seats in Parliament after polls on Tuesday as it ditched its "Islam is the solution" slogan and joined hands with Christians and prominent national figures to create a broad-based civic grouping called the National Coalition for Reform.

Officials said the turnout was 36 per cent of 4.1 million eligible voters at the end of voting, lower than the election in January 2013.

This appeared to confirm reports by independent observers, who anticipated apathy from many voters with minimal confidence in a Parliament dominated by pro-government tribal deputies.

The counting of ballots was relatively smooth, with results expected to come out yesterday.

Vilified by the pro-government media, the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm - the Islamic Action Front (IAF) - boycotted elections for a decade to protest against electoral laws that they felt were biased against them, and pushed for broader political representation.

Jordan came close to banning the Brotherhood this year, in what the Islamists said was a settling of scores with them for instigating protests that focused on reforming the government and limiting King Abdullah's powers, though the protesters stopped short of demanding the overthrow of the monarchy.

The IAF fielded candidates in the majority of electoral districts in the parliamentary polls.The election represents a modest step in the democratisation process launched by staunch United States ally King Abdullah as he seeks to insulate Jordan from the conflicts at its borders.

But the vote is expected to show the resilience of Islamists in the face of heavy state restrictions, Western diplomats and analysts said.

The comeback of Jordan's best organised opposition has left secular rivals fearing the revival of Islamism in a contest where national politics has taken a back seat. They have responded by attacking political Islam and demanding the separation of politics and religion.

For many Jordanians, that elections are being held at all demonstrates their country's stability in a violent region. "The mere fact we are holding elections, and going to our homes safely and counting votes instead of counting the dead, is a testimony to how Jordan's leadership has steered us away from destruction," said former MP and minister Bassam Haddadeen.

Others see the election as unjust or meaningless, given rules that ensure Jordanian cities will be under-represented.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'Jordan's Islamist opposition expected to make gains in polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe