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Jordan: King retains Parliament majority after elections


Tribal leaders, pro-regime loyalists and independent businessmen looked set to sweep Jordan's parliamentary election that was shunned by Islamists, according to initial results released on Thursday.

Analysts say the new parliament will be dominated by loyalists who will carry out King Abdullah II's orders, dashing hopes of real political reform, after initial results showed that tribal leaders, an assortment of pro-government figures and independent businessmen were heading the field.

The region-wide revolutions that began two years ago and toppled four regimes across the Middle East also sparked regular protests in Jordan, where a combination of youths and Islamists have been demanding sweeping political and economic reforms.

Their protests have become increasingly vocal and, during deadly November rioting over a sharp hike in fuel prices, there were unprecedented calls from some quarters for the king to step down.
Abdullah, whose throne is not seriously thought to be under threat, had touted Wednesday's election as a focal point of his reforms process, which he said should pave the way for a parliamentary system of government.

Among his reforms, he said that he plans for the first time to consult MPs before naming a premier, who should in turn then consult with MPs before forming cabinet.

But Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood boycotted the poll, saying the monarch's measures fell far short of true democratic change and that he should not have any say at all in the naming of a prime minister.

Nevertheless, about three dozen Islamists and other government critics who ran as independents won seats, according to initial results.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) put the final turnout at 56.6 percent of the registered electorate of 2.3 million but the Brotherhood disputed this figure, saying there had been widescale fraud and vote-buying.

The figures showed that two women, including independent candidate Maryam Luzi, had won a seats outside of the quota system which reserves 15 seats for women in Jordan.

Also among the winners are two women from Amman, Abla Abu Elbeh, secretary general of the leftist Jordanian People's Democratic Party, and Rula Hroub, an outspoken journalist.

The IEC also announced that Khalil Atieh, a long-time ally of the monarchy, had come out winner in an Amman constituency, while Mustapha Hamarenh, a reformist researcher, won a seat for his mainly Christian city of Madaba, near Amman.

At least three candidates, who have been accused by the authorities of vote-buying, appeared to have won. Their cases are still before the courts and if found guilty, they will lose their seats in parliament, facing several years in jail.

The Muslim Brotherhood slammed the election.

"The turnout does not make any sense. They could have done a better job to make people believe [in the legitimacy of the election]," Zaki Bani Rshied, deputy leader of the Brotherhood told AFP.

"We have closely monitored the electoral process. Vote buying and fake voter cards were very clear. We will prove that our boycott was the right decision."

The election commission insisted its figures were accurate.

Mohammad Abu Rumman, researcher at the University of Jordan's Centre for Strategic Studies agreed that the turnout had been good.

"The Islamists got a slap in the face when it comes to turnout, which was good. But that's not all. Parliament faces huge challenges," he told AFP.

"It will be weak because it will have many MPs who served in past parliaments as well as businessmen who used their money to win. These two groups do not have clear agenda for change."

Other analysts too saw little chance of real reform.

"The king ... did not at all cede any of his powers to parliament, which anyway, will be dominated by loyalists. So his orders will be implemented in the end," political analyst Hassan Abu Hanieh told AFP.

"It is unlikely that the new MPs will change anything. It is obvious that are clear attempts to make the election look good. That's all," he said adding that "constitutional amendments are needed to change the king's power."

A total of 1,425 candidates, including around 140 former MPs and 191 women, contested the 150 seats in parliament's lower house.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar, AP)

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