IN the center of a huge, white tent stood a tall man dressed in
an elegant black and white Bedouin costume trimmed with gold
thread. Hundreds of men streamed into the tent while bitter Arab
coffee made the rounds.
Abdel Hadi al-Majali, a Western-educated engineer, had returned
to his tribal base to win support for his candidacy in Jordan's
multiparty parliamentary elections, which are being held today. But
he avoided discussing politics with his supporters. "After all,
His Majesty King Hussein decides the policies of the country," Mr.
Not far away, in the center of the old city, a veteran leftist
activist named Issa Mdanat also contested the elections, espousing
a populist message. "The people have been able to attain many of
their rights, but we have a long way to go to ensure wider
political participation and equal rights," he told his supporters.
In the campaign for Jordan's first democratic elections, Majali
and Mr. Mdanat represent the old and new political forces, those
who think the four-year democratization process has gone too far
and those who think it has not gone far enough.
But the election has also become a standoff between powerful
tribes and the newly legalized left-wing opposition parties.
Elite candidates like Majali, a former public security chief and
ambassador to Washington, have fallen back on tribal and family
structures for support. Populists such as Mdanat, who spent 12
years in prison for opposing government policies, are trying to
boost the role of opposition parties in government decisionmaking.
King Hussein, who apparently worried that a parliament dominated
by radical right-wing and leftist opposition parties could obstruct
the peace process with Israel, introduced a "one person, one
vote" electoral system that effectively prevents party alliances.
"It was a clear message to the tribes to unite and reassert
their influence," says one Western diplomat. The tribes have
proved divided, but King Hussein's tactic is expected to split the
radical Islamic and leftist votes.
King Hussein started opening the political process in 1989 after
a week of intense riots in this and other southern cities against
economic policies engineered by the International Monetary Fund.
The country's first general elections four years ago gave a
stunning victory to the right-wing, Islamist Muslim Brotherhood,
which won one-third of the parliament. Once a reliable ally of King
Hussein, and consequently the only group that was tolerated for
three decades, the Islamists have become more radical, and King
Hussein felt he could no longer rely on them as a useful balance
against the leftist and pan-Arab nationalists. …