Jordan's king pushes elections as reform path

October 23, 2012 - 8:34 AM

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — King Abdullah II called Tuesday on Jordan's fragmented opposition to organize to run for upcoming elections, an implied rebuke to groups that have opposed his parliament-driven reform program in favor of a boycott and street protests.

According to the king's roadmap, elections will be held Jan. 23 for a parliament that will then choose the prime minister. Previously, it was the king's prerogative to appoint a premier.

The plan is aimed at forestalling Arab Spring-style uprisings as have toppled regimes elsewhere in the region. Jordan has weathered 22 months of street protests calling for a wider public say in politics, although the protests have been small and mild compared to mass uprisings elsewhere in the region.

"If you want to change Jordan for the better, there is a chance, and that chance is through the upcoming elections. There is a way, and that way is through the next parliament," the king said in a speech to prominent politicians and businessmen.

The powerful Islamist opposition is boycotting the polls, saying that the election system — allocating half the seats to districts, half to party lists — gives too much weight to traditional tribally based conservatives loyal to the monarchy who dominate local politics. Government officials argue that Jordan's system is used by many countries, and that the Islamists' preferred all-party list system would inflate their numbers.

Decades-old restrictions on political parties were lifted in the 1990s, creating a fragmented field of 23 different blocs. Although few in Jordan's opposition oppose the monarchy outright, many want the king — who under the reform plan will still set many key policies — to devolve more power to parliament. Abdullah said that they were welcome to seek further reforms, or more changes to the election laws, through parliament.

"Political parties and lists should organize themselves as quickly as possible, build their electoral platforms for the next four years and explain to voters what policies and additional reforms they seek," he said.

"As for those who want additional reforms or want to develop the Elections Law, they can work from under the dome of parliament and through the ballot boxes, which are the true representative of the will of the people."

Abdullah also said that he gained little personally by being king.

"Being king, to me, is not a benefit that I seek, it is a responsibility," Abdullah said.

"Governing was never for us about holding a monopoly over authority, nor about power and its tools, but about supporting state institutions run by Jordanians from all segments of society," he said of his Hashemite dynasty, which has ruled Jordan since its inception nearly a century ago.