01/22/2013, 00.00
JORDAN
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Elections are a small step towards an Arab spring and political dialogue, Jordanian priest says

For the first time in the monarchy's history, voters will be able to choose among political groups unrelated to tribes or clans. For Fr Rif'at Bader, head of the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media, tomorrow's vote is a sign of change. With 50 candidates running, the Christian minority hopes to increase its presence in parliament, currently limited to nine seats. The Islamist boycott and call for radical regime change are wrong, priest says.

Amman (AsiaNews) - Boycotted by Islamists and various members of the National Reform Front, Jordan's elections tomorrow are "a small step towards real political participation, following an Arab spring based on dialogue, not bloodshed," said Fr p. Rif'at Bader, a priest from Latin Patriarchate who heads the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media in Amman. "For the first time in Jordanian history, people will be able to vote for political groups in addition to traditional leaders connected to tribal groups and clans. This, for us, is a true revolution," he told AsiaNews. Some 50 Christians are running in the poll.

Following protests by the Muslim Brotherhood in 2011, which forced to prime ministers to resign, Jordanian authorities increased the number of parliamentary seats to 132 from 105 with 27 chosen through proportional representation on nationwide lists.

"They are not yet parties but an alternative to single constituencies where candidates are chosen from tribes and clans," Fr Bader said.

If the poll is peaceful, ordinary Jordanians will increase their political participation without coups or bloodshed. It will open the door to electing the prime minister, who is currently picked by the king.

What is new this time is the large group of Christian candidates. About 50 are running and some already have experience in parliament where nine seats are reserved to the Christian minority.

"Many of our candidates chose to join political groups. If they are elected, we will be able to increase our representation in parliament," the priest said.

"There are about 170,000 Christians in Jordan, 2.8 per cent of the population. Despite their small numbers, they are very active in society, running schools, universities and hospitals open to all without distinctions of ethnic background or creed.

For the clergyman, these elections are a good opportunity to show the country that Christians are not inward-looking, seeking only minority rights, but are open instead and actively involved in the development of Jordanian society.

Fr Bader is aware that the government has problems and shortcomings, including serious corruption and stalled economic reforms to fight unemployment. However, he is critical of the Muslim Brotherhood's decision to boycott the vote.

"For Islamists, political groups do not adequately represent citizens," the clergyman explained. "They want to radically change the country. Under present circumstances, this can only cause a lot of turmoil. Their leaders' hard-line approach could keep them far from ongoing changes. It is better to achieve reforms through parliament. The process must be peaceful and non-violent; it cannot be imposed by force." (S.C.)

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