22 - 28 July 1999
Issue No. 439
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Jordan poll 'satisfies' IslamistsBy Lola Keilani
The results of last week's municipal elections, in which Islamists won main municipalities, showed that the relationship between the government and opposition parties is on the mend.
The results, which were released on Friday following a one-day extension of the vote due to low turnout, were acknowledged by Islamists to be fair, free and democratic.
"Our party faced some problems during the elections, but contrary to the last elections, the government was cooperative with us and all problems were solved on the spot," said Nael Zaydan Masalheh, head of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) Higher Committee for Municipal Elections. The IAF is the main Islamic party in Jordan and is known as the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood group. Brotherhood leader Abdul-Majid Thuneibat said that "the results of the elections are satisfactory," adding that the outcome boosted the movement's image as Jordan's leading political party.
The IAF Party won a landslide victory in the traditional strongholds of the Kingdom's main urban cities: Zarqa, Irbid and Ruseifeh, where the majority of the population are Jordanians of Palestinian origin. The IAF announced a list of 80 candidates of which 70 per cent won. Moreover, 45 other undeclared IAF members who ran as individuals counting on their tribal weight had 27 winners. Nevertheless, in these urban areas, voters shied away from exercising their democratic right to vote and those who did turn out in the populated areas placed their faith in the Islamic Front.
"The political significance is that it reveals the throbbing pulse of the average Jordanians who feel that the government has not served them the way they hoped for and that they are yearning for change. The Islamists won on a purely social platform and have demonstrated in many cases that they can deliver what the government has failed to do. As for those who did not vote, perhaps the reason for this is that in the past elections their votes meant very little anyway," said the Jordan Times editorial.
Although the party gained complete control of Jordan's second largest city, Zarqa, as well as Irbid and the poor and densely populated city of Ruseifeh, which includes four Palestinian camps, the IAF was unable to secure full mobilisation of the capital city, Amman, as was demonstrated by the low turnout of voters, said political analyst Sameeh Maayyteh.
In Amman, home to around 1.8 million people, the IAF increased its presence from three to five seats in the 40-seat council which has 50 per cent of its members routinely appointed by the government. In Zarqa, only 22 per cent of the population headed to the ballot boxes, added Maayyteh.
"Nevertheless, these elections are a good sign for future cooperation between the government and the opposition," he said.
The IAF participation comes now as a reaffirmation of the new deal between King Abdullah and the Brotherhood to end their two-year boycott of political life if a royal commitment to transparency and non-intervention by the executive in the electoral process is secured.
Islamists, along with opposition parties, had earlier called for convening an all-embracing National Jordanian Congress and had boycotted the 1997 parliamentary elections to protest a number of issues which included an elections law they deemed unfair, normalisation of ties with Israel, the enactment of a repressive press law, in addition to the government's refusal to hold dialogue with them during former Prime Minister Abdel-Salam Majali's tenure.
Other political parties, including the pro-Iraq Baath Party, the Marxist People's Democratic Party (Hashed) and the National Constitutional Party, won few seats, but all these parties' candidates ran as individuals with no reference at all to a political party platform. Moreover, the pro-establishment National Constitutional Party did not announce the names of its candidates, nor the number of seats it won, though its secretary-general, Abdel-Hadi Majali, speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, had reiterated the party's hope for a big victory matching that of the Islamists.
Finally, Jordanian women won only three municipal seats and were denied the chance to run with other blocs in the city of Zarqa. More than 40 women candidates were running for seats. In rural areas, where the turnout was high, tribal leaders and independent candidates swept the vast majority of seats for mayorship and council members.
"This is an indication of the lack of political awareness and that our system has not reached the degree of sophistication to which we aspire. And we blame the political parties, which, in the past seven years since their formation, have not managed to create stable parties, reasonable platforms or alternative solutions to many of our pressing social and economic concerns," said a political analyst, who preferred to remain anonymous.