Pressured for reforms, the government is drawing up a new
election law barring religious parties in a country where the Muslim
Brotherhood is the largest opposition group.
For Osama Hasoun, 23, protesting has become a weekly affair.
Nearly every Friday afternoon, he prays at Amman's popular Grand
Husseini Mosque. Afterward, he carefully folds his prayer mat, puts
on his black shoes and blends into the crowd.
Revolutions that began last year in Tunisia and spread across the
region also sparked protests and strikes in countries like Jordan.
Opposition groups have called for comprehensive political reform and
greater popular representation but mostly stop short of demanding
the ouster of the regime.
In an effort to respond to these pressures, the Jordanian
government recently submitted a draft of a new election law to
Parliament after appointing a national dialogue committee to
overhaul the system. Once the new law is passed, elections are
expected to take place by the end of this year. How the campaign
unfolds will be a key test of whether the government is serious
It already looks doubtful that the changes will put an end to
cynicism about the electoral process. That is in part because the
new system may continue to put fetters on political parties and
opposition groups, including the Islamic Action Front, the political
wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The I.A.F. was particularly incensed
by a recent move in the Parliament to bar religious parties.
"These developments may have dire consequences for Jordanian
politics, including a boycott by the Islamic Action Front," said
Marwan Shehadeh, a political analyst and expert on Islamic
In a statement, the I.A.F. secretary general, Hamza Mansour, said
that the latest moves by the government were "unjustified and
illogical," but that no decision had yet been taken to boycott the
The existing election law has been criticized for favoring regime
loyalists and tribal leaders because of gerrymandering that tilts
toward conservative rural districts over the capital, Amman, and
other urban areas, where Palestinians and Brotherhood supporters are
concentrated. The result has been a Parliament of individuals rather
than parties and one that favors the so-called East Bankers, or
tribal Jordanians. The system also erected high hurdles for
political parties because of obstacles to licensing and limited
access to seats.
"The Parliament needs to take into consideration the
sensitivities and remove all articles in the new law that encourages
discrimination and division among society," said Mohammad Sweiden,
assistant managing editor of Al Ghad, an Amman daily.
The lower house of Parliament is elected while the upper house is
appointed by the king, who also appoints and dismisses prime
ministers and cabinets. The powers of the legislative bodies are now
being debated. In the past, the Senate or the king had a veto over
bills passed in the lower house.
At a press conference last week, Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh
said that under the new law voters would be able to cast three
ballots instead of one as is the case now. Two would be for
individual candidates in the voter's district and one for a
political party or national coalition. The number of seats reserved
for women would be raised to 15 from 12, and the total number of
seats in Parliament increased to 138 from 120. …