Jordan Islamists to step up anti-election campaign
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan's powerful Islamists warned on Tuesday they will step up their campaign against next week's parliamentary elections and against reforms pursued by King Abdullah II.
The Jan. 23 vote could lead to a showdown between Abdullah and the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group leads a fractured opposition in Jordan that includes liberal youth activists, trade unionists, Arab nationalists and Communists.
Traditionally, the Brotherhood has been loyal to the Jordan's Hashemite dynasty, which claims ancestry to the Prophet Muhammad. Brotherhood leaders have joined Cabinets in the past and held top government positions. Unlike other Mideast nations where the Brotherhood was banned or suppressed until Arab Spring revolts, it has been a licensed political party for decades in Jordan.
Now the fundamentalist group is openly seeking more power in the kingdom, seeing its peers now ruling in Egypt and Tunisia.
On Tuesday, three leaders of the Brotherhood's IAF told reporters in Amman that the Jordanian opposition opposes the elections but renounces violence as a means of coming to power.
"We are against the elections because they are a theatrical gimmick meant to maintain the government's strong grip on power," said IAF leader Hamza Mansour. "We call on all Jordanians to boycott the polls."
Salem Falahat, Mansour's deputy, claimed the opposition was "expanding both numerically and taking on more cities nationwide."
Zaki Bani Irsheid, another IAF member, said the group would escalate its campaign against the elections and the king's reforms through peaceful means such as "street protests, public gatherings and strikes and by lobbying the next parliament."
Bani Irsheid said the party may suspend the membership of member Abdul-Karim Maaytah, who is competing in the election in violation of the boycott. He said another party official Mohammad Al-Hosami resigned two months ago and is also contesting the polls.
Asked if IAF's boycott could lead to its isolation from Jordanian politics during parliament's upcoming four-year term, Bani Irsheid said, "How can we be secluded if we're continuously in street protests, in the forefront defending the rights of the people and our country?"
The king has made next week's elections the centerpiece of two years of reforms he initiated to stave off an uprising in Jordan along the lines of Arab Spring revolts that have toppled four longtime rulers so far.
The Brotherhood and four other opposition groups demand the king relinquish more of his absolute powers to parliament. They also want constitutional changes that would lessen the king's grip on the country's judiciary and legislature.
At the heart of a dispute is a new election law, which the opposition maintains favors king's loyalists and assures they get most of the seats in parliament.
The king insists the polls will open the way for the first-ever elected prime minister in Jordan. In the past, the king has appointed the premier.
The next prime minister will emerge from the party winning a parliamentary majority.
The election of a premier by direct vote has been the chief demand by protesters during two years of street demonstrations.
Other reform efforts by the king include streamlining Jordan's 23 political parties into three or five coalitions based on ideology — left, right and center.
Jordan revived a multi-party system in 1992 after a three-decade ban sparked by a leftist coup attempt. Abdullah said the new party system will need time to mature until elections can be held in which voters will cast ballots for their party of choice — not as they do now, voting based on tribal affiliation and family connections.
Associated Press writer Dale Gavlak contributed.