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Pro-government parties defeat Islamists in Jordan's parliamentary polls

Opposition group blames setback on election 'fraud'

Supporters of Jordan's King Abdullah II, a close US ally, handily defeated the country's Islamist opposition in parliamentary elections, reducing their opponents' presence in Parliament by nearly two-thirds, final results confirmed Wednesday. Meanwhile, it was widely expected that King Abdullah would appoint a new government in the next few days, since the mandate of current Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit, who took office two years ago, ended with the election.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment, but there is speculation that former Transport Minister Nader al-Dahabi, considered a liberal, is a strong candidate for the premiership. Dahabi heads a special economic zone in the Red Sea resort city of Aqaba.

Final election results, announced by Interior Minister Eid al-Fayez, showed that the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the country's largest opposition group which fielded 22 candidates, won only six seats. The IAF won 17 seats in 2003, when it ended a boycott that had turned Parliament into a pro-government talking shop, and became the only real opposition in the assembly.

A handful of known sympathizers of the Islamist bloc, who ran as independents, were defeated in Tuesday's election.
Even popular IAF female candidate Hayet al-Musaymeh, who held a seat in the previous Parliament, also lost her bid.

Instead, seven other women, both liberals and conservatives who ran as independents, won seats. Most prominent among them is dentist Falak al-Jamaani, a liberal who won outside a quota of six seats reserved for women to ensure their presence in the lawmaking body. Jamaani is an incumbent who won a quota seat in the 2003 polls.

Women, who make up half of the 5.5 million population, complain they are being deprived of their share in the decision making in conservative, tribal-oriented Jordan, where men have the final say in all matters.

Still, a record of 199 women contested this year's election, nearly four times the 54 who did in the previous polls in which no woman won outside the quota.

Supporters of the king, mainly tribal bedouin and centrist politicians, secured a majority of the seats in the 110-member Chamber of Deputies, among them 29 lawmakers, including former prime ministers and security officials, from in the outgoing Parliament.

Their victory was widely expected and attributed to the strong influence of family and tribal links on voting in Jordan and the inability of the Islamists to deliver on long-standing promises to improve the economic lot of country's poor.

IAF leader Jamil Abu Bakr blamed his group's defeat on government "fraud" in the election, including what he described as state "collusion" with some candidates who allegedly bought votes from the poor - a charge the government denied.

"These allegations are baseless. The government has conducted impartial and fair elections," Fayez told reporters.

However, officials admitted that 17 people were arrested for tampering with the election process on Tuesday, including two who were allegedly involved in vote buying.

"This is an electoral massacre ... violations by far exceeded even the last elections ... it will have harmful repercussions on the country's political progress. It will force us to reconsider our participation in future elections," Abu Bakr told Reuters.

The government has worked hard to undermine the IAF's popularity. Frightened by the rising power of the militant Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip and chaos in Iraq and Lebanon, Jordan cracked down on the IAF and other critics.

Earlier this year, the government accused IAF of financial irregularities at the group's vast charity network that includes schools, hospitals and banks across the country.

Authorities took control of the charity's financial records, depriving IAF of the ability to spend money freely on the poor - its main source of support.

Last June, police arrested nine IAF members on charges of planning to set up armed militias. The group categorically denied the charge.

Marseille,12 10 2007
The Daily Star
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