Jordan Islamists warn they'll counter elections
Secretary General of the Jordanian Islamic Action Front Hamza Mansour, left, speaks during a press conference regarding the Islamic movement boycott of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Amman, Jordan, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2012. (AP/Mohammad Hannon)
Published Tuesday, January 15, 2013 9:36AM EST
AMMAN, Jordan -- Jordan's powerful Islamists warned on Tuesday they will step up their campaign against next week's parliamentary elections and against reforms pursued by King Abdullah II.
The Jan. 23 vote could set the stage for a possible showdown between Abdullah and the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. The group leads a fractured opposition in Jordan that includes liberal youth activists, trade unionists, Arab nationalists and Communists.
Traditionally, the Brotherhood has been loyal to the Jordan's Hashemite dynasty, which claims ancestry to the Prophet Muhammad. Brotherhood leaders have joined Cabinets in the past and held top government positions. And unlike other Mideast nations where the Brotherhood was until last year's Arab Spring revolts banned or suppressed, it has been a licensed political party for decades in Jordan.
But recently, the fundamentalist group has been eager to gain more power in the kingdom, seeing its peers now ruling in Egypt and Tunisia.
On Tuesday, three leaders of the Brotherhood's IAF insisted at a press conference in Amman that the Jordanian opposition renounces violence as a means of coming to power even as it persists in the boycott of the elections.
"We are against the elections because they are a theatrical gimmick meant to maintain the government's strong grip on power," said IAF leader Hamza Mansour. "We call on all Jordanians to boycott the polls."
Salem Falahat, Mansour's deputy, claimed the opposition was "expanding both numerically and taking on more cities nationwide," adding that a rally planned for Friday by both the Brotherhood and the youth groups would showcase the opposition's growth.
A similar opposition protest in October that had called for a half-million-man-turnout drew only about 7,000 people.
Zaki Bani Irsheid, another IAF deputy, said the group would escalate its campaign against the elections and the king's reforms through peaceful means such as "street protests, public gatherings and strikes and by lobbying the next parliament."
The king has made next week's elections the centerpiece of two years of reforms he initiated to stave off an uprising in Jordan along the lines of Arab Spring revolts that have toppled four longtime rulers so far.
But the IAF and four other opposition groups demand the king relinquish more of his absolute powers to parliament. They also want substantial constitutional changes that would lessen the grip by the palace and the security services over the country's judiciary and legislature.
At the heart of a dispute between the opposition and the king is a new election law, which the opposition maintains favours king's loyalists and assures they get the lion share of parliamentary seats.
However, the king insists the polls will open the way for the first-ever elected prime minister in Jordan. In the past, the king appointed the head of government.
The next prime minister will emerge from the winning parliamentary majority, not by a direct vote.
The election of a premier by direct vote has been the chief demand by protesters during two years of street demonstrations rallying for more political say by the people.
Other reform efforts by the king include a roadmap for streamlining Jordan's 23 political parties into three or five coalitions based on ideology -- left, right and centre.
Jordan revived a multi-party system in 1992 after nearly a 36-year ban sparked by a leftist coup attempt. Abdullah says the nascent party system will need time to mature until elections can be held in which voters will cast ballots for their party of choice -- and not as they do now, voting based on tribal affiliation and family connections.