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Last Updated: Monday, 16 June, 2003, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Jordan ready for delayed election
The elections have been postponed several times

Jordan goes to the polls on Tuesday after domestic and wider Middle East problems held up parliamentary elections three times since 2001.

Worries about Islamic radicalism, the Palestinian intifada and the Iraq war all contributed to delaying the first elections under King Abdallah.

The king took the throne on the death of his father King Hussein in 1999, inheriting a country struggling for economic and social survival amid regional unrest.

The new king faced the task of maintaining stability while accommodating growing calls for political reform.

Elections for the lower house of parliament, the House of Representatives, were last held in 1997, and were due to have been held in 2001, before they were postponed.

With more than 50% of the population of Palestinian origin, the violence between Israelis and Palestinians enflamed public opinion in Jordan.

The king spearheaded efforts to defuse the violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, but it continued unabated, with a corresponding spill over to Jordan.

King Abdallah's pro-Western stance in the war against terror following 11 September also caused tensions in the kingdom.

Islamists and women

The perception among Jordanians that he took a soft line against Washington's war against Iraq - despite his efforts to persuade President Bush to give peace a chance - also generated tension.

An Islamist party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), is seen as one of the key players in the election.

This is despite the fact that the system is based on voting for individual candidates - who may or may not represent a party - standing for seats reserved for constituencies based on religion, ethnicity and, most recently, gender.

Population: 5.4m inc electorate of 2.84m
Parliament elected every four years
Voting age: 18 and over
Seats: 110 - 92 Muslims; nine Christians; six women; three Caucasians
Candidates: 801 (55 women)
Voting centres 1415 - including 589 male only, 596 women only

Tuesday's elections will be the first in which an allocation of seats have been reserved exclusively for women, although they have served in past parliaments.

Changes to the election law in 2001 increased the number of seats from 80 to 104, and lowered the voting age from 19 to 18. A subsequent allocation for women increased the number of seats to 110.

Of the 110 MPs to be elected, 92 are Muslims, nine are Christian, six are women and 3 are Circassians, an ethnic group originating in the north Caucasus.

A total of 30 IAF candidates, vying for the seats reserved for Muslims, have registered to take part, but the party has threatened to withdraw them, accusing the government of seeking to "obstruct and undermine the election process".

It has also objected to rules forcing Muslim women who wear the veil to reveal their faces to male election monitors before casting their ballots, saying it violates Islamic traditions.

Among the candidates seeking election are nearly 60 women, by far the most who have ever stood in what is a strongly male-dominated and tribal society.

One of them is a Bedouin, reportedly the first woman from that normally ultra-conservative and sexually-segregated group to stand for parliament.

Progressives and reactionaries

After the various setbacks for those seeking a greater say in the country's future, a sense of anticipation surrounds the election, although there is little expectation of great political change or the onset of a deeper democracy.

King Abdallah himself wields considerable executive and legislative power, assisted partly by his self-appointed upper house, the Senate.

The House of Representatives tends to play second fiddle, although technically, it can dismiss cabinet ministers and enact or block legislation against the king's will.

King Abdullah
The king likes to be seen as a moderniser

In some cases, the National Assembly has blocked progressive legislation, as in several instances where King Abdallah's efforts to improve the lot of women have been voted down by conservative MPs.

Whether it be a force for progress or conservatism, it is the nearest most Jordanians get to involvement in the formal political process.

When asked recently in a BBC Interactive phone-in if he would consider a figurehead monarchy, like in Britain or Belgium, King Abdallah suggested such a system was a long way off in Jordan.

"I think if we are looking at a modern liberal society, the way it is going is we are strengthening institutions. This is the problem that we have in maybe our part of the world - that institutions have not been the central core of moving countries forward," the king said.

"Our job, by improving the economy, improving social welfare, the way the government does business - strengthening institutions eventually that is going to be the end game."

For Jordanians, it is unclear whether the end game the king talks about is a true parliamentary democracy or some other form of government. Most will not be holding their breath in anticipation of its speedy arrival.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Country profile: Jordan
24 May 03  |  Country profiles

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