11/15/2007, 00.00
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Jordanians getting ready to vote amid accusations of electoral fraud and fears of fundamentalism

General elections are scheduled for November 20. Opposition groups accuse the government of trying to manipulate results. The political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood will not boycott the poll, but will run only 22 candidates for the 110 seats up for grabs.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Jordan is getting ready to go to the polls next Tuesday to elect 110 members of parliament. But the legislative branch of the pro-Western nation has relatively few powers despite the crown’s reiterated support for a truly democratic system. Under the current complex electoral rules, ethnic (Circassians) and religious minorities (Christian) are guaranteed a certain number of seats. Women, too, are assured a set number of seats (six). The government, which had promised change, has so far failed to deliver.

Failure to reform the system has led the opposition, Islamist but also liberal, to complain that the government will engage in electoral fraud. Charges include claims that the government is tampering with voters’ lists or bussing soldiers to opposition strongholds and ordering them to vote for pro-government candidates. The government has dismissed the charges but has also not allowed anyone to look into them.

Opposition groups have been tracking the campaign for illegalities, and have been in a protracted fight with the government over access to polling stations.

For the New York Times, Hamas’s violent takeover of Gaza in June cast a dark shadow over politics in Jordan, where a Hashemite monarch maintains a tight, authoritarian grip on a restive Palestinian population (30 to 60 per cent of the total). Palestinian rights and fear of Islamic fundamentalism are indeed some of the few hot issues in the campaign.

Toujan al-Faisal thinks that the fundamentalist bogey is overblown. First woman lawmaker elected to Jordan’s parliament in 1993, she was banned from running this time.

She told al-Jazeera that government polls show that Islamist groups can get only 15 to 20 per cent of the vote. In her opinion the government is trying to manipulate the opposition, intimidating its candidates.

The Shura Council of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), which is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and the only real opposition party, said it expects electoral fraud but will still put forward only 22 candidates out of a thousand who are running.

IAF leader Hamza Mansour told the Gulf Times that his party will not boycott the elections. Instead he said: “We call on the government to be serious in holding honest and transparent elections.”

Although women make up about half of Jordan's population, they are underrepresented in government. In fact no female candidate won outright in the previous legislative elections in 2003. In an interview with Middle East Online Toujan al-Faisal said that only six women sat in the outgoing parliament because of their reserved seats.

This time 203 women will compete along with 750 men for seats. But the situation is not likely to improve in a society that is still tribal in nature.

In the end traditionally pro-monarchy Bedouin tribesmen are expected to win the greatest number of seats. And the king can always dismiss parliament and rule by decree. (PD)

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