JORDAN plans to hold in November its first general parliamentary election in 22 years. The vote will both broaden the nation's political participation and effectively formalize its break with the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The announcement of the election date came last week, almost a year after King Hussein's decision July 31, 1988, to relinquish the West Bank to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The territory had been part of Jordan since 1950.
Representation in the 60-member parliament had been evenly divided between the two banks. Under an amendment to the election law in April, the West Bank will be unrepresented.
The amendment also scrapped nine seats for the 11 Palestinian refugee in Jordan camps that were treated as separate electoral districts, merging them instead with the surrounding balloting centers.
In his July 31 speech, King Hussein declared that all legal residents of Jordan were Jordanian citizens, regardless of their origin. Thus, Palestinians who are original inhabitants and those who arrived later as refugees have the legal right both to vote and to nominate themselves as candidates for the election.
But there is a wide and extensive debate in the country on whether the Palestinians should run. The prevailing view among Jordanian politicians and activists is that they should. But there is a preference that Palestinians officially affiliated with the PLO avoid the nomination.
Notable Jordanians and Palestinians expect most Palestinians to opt to back non-Palestinian candidates instead of running themselves. ``We would like to avoid any unnecessary sensitivities. We are more concerned about the candidate's platform than his origin,'' a Palestinian activist said.
Issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be important in the elections. But in view of the absence of tension between Jordan and the PLO, candidates are expected to focus more on economic reforms and the liberalization of Jordan's political system.
King Hussein's decision to hold the election followed violent protests over prices last April in some areas of the kingdom. The unpopular government of Prime Minister Zaid Rifai was replaced by a provisional cabinet headed by Field Marshall Zaid Ben Shaker, a distant cousin of Hussein, and entrusted with wiping out corruption and preparing the country for a return to parliamentary life.
Leaflets distributed widely since the riots, sometimes signed by former ministers and officials, have called for lifting martial law (in effect since 1967) and legalizing political parties banned in 1957. The leaflets urged the government to lift a ban on nomination of candidates who belong to ``illegal organizations.''
But last week the government announced that it had no plans to lift the restrictions described by many lawyers and politicians as unconstitutional. The ban mainly applies to members of the Communist Party, Baathists, and Palestinian factions. That leaves only the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leaders are aligned with the monarchy, as a legal association able to contest the elections.