Jordanian Vote Marks A Victory for the King And the Peace Process

JORDAN'S King Hussein, presiding over his country's first multiparty elections in four decades, was rewarded on Nov. 8 with the sort of parliament he had hoped for.

Made up mostly of independent, traditional conservatives, parliament is expected to put few obstacles in King Hussein's way as he pursues peace with Israel and presses economic reforms.

With the radical Islamic Action Front (IAF) and leftist groups losing ground, parliamentary opposition to such policies will be less vocal, and the king did not hide his satisfaction when the final results were announced on Nov. 9.

``We have faith in our people, in their ability to discern what is best for them, and I am very, very happy with their response,'' he told reporters.

Fahed al-Fanek, a local political analyst, says: ``This is a victory for the king; he can have his way in a democratic manner. And he is better off now because he has more authority, based on all Jordanians.''

Although the elections marked the first opportunity political parties have had to compete for power since the king outlawed them in 1958 - or perhaps because of that - they attracted little popular support.

Voters, especially in rural areas, appeared to be swayed more by their family and tribal loyalties than by political platforms, electing their clan leaders in large numbers. But in elections whose results mostly matched predictions, there was one surprise: An outspoken feminist, Toujan Faisal, won a seat, the first woman ever to do so.

The most successful party was the Islamist IAF, which won 16 seats in the 80-member lower house, although this was a setback from the 1989 elections, when the IAF's backbone, the Muslim Brotherhood, won 22 seats.

IAF leaders blamed a new election law that appeared calculated to lessen the party's prospects for winning a large number of seats, and complained that the government had done its utmost to undermine the IAF's campaign.

The new law impeded the kind of party alliances that boosted the IAF in elections four years ago.

``The crucial factor was the new law, especially in the areas where several Islamist candidates ran,'' argues Hamze Mansour, a victorious IAF candidate from Amman. ``We don't believe we have suffered a setback in terms of popular support, and we are pleased with the results.''

Other government critics, such as left-wing political analyst Labib Kamhawi, agree that the authorities had ``maneuvered the entire process of the elections to make the outcome inevitable.''

But the Islamists do appear to have lost popular support as well, in the four years since they shocked the country by leaping to dominance in the last parliament.

Analysts blame the falling Islamist vote partly on the Muslim Botherhood's record in the parliament. ``It happened one-third because of the change in the law, one-third because of their lack of achievement, and one-third because they didn't get the protest vote that they won in 1989,'' Dr. Kamhawi says.

At the same time, most voters appeared preoccupied by domestic issues such as unemployment and high prices, while the IAF campaign focused heavily on opposition to the peace process.

Only 54 percent of registered voters actually cast a vote, and although this marked a slight increase over the 1989 turnout, observers said that the low figure indicated a lack of faith in parliament's role.

IN a country where the king is the ultimate authority, and holds most of the reins of power, parliament has often looked like little more than a rubber stamp for government decisions.

``It is not that Jordanians do not believe in democracy,'' says one Western diplomat, ``it's just that they don't see the point of it. Parliament has done very little to change people's lives and most of the legislation it passed was presented by the government.''

Four years of experience have shown that ``deputies are not the decisionmakers,'' adds Jamal al-Shaer, a former Cabinet minister and veteran political activist.

``But as democratic institutions gradually build themselves up, there will be a smaller role for the palace and a bigger role for parliament and political parties,'' he predicts.

King Hussein, too, acknowledging that tribal concerns had weighed more heavily on the election results than political ones, conceded, ``I don't think we've reached our goal as yet - we may reach it in four years or in eight years, when inevitably political parties will be given a chance with the passage of time to express themselves coherently.

``It will take time, but I hope that in the next elections or in the ones after that, we will see lots of progress in the role of political parties,'' he added.

The king is expected to name a new government in the next few days, possibly including some newly elected members of parliament in his Cabinet. He is not expected to invite any IAF members, however, and the Islamist party has said it would not join any government pursuing peace with Israel.

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