Attempting to head off a massive boycott of its upcoming parliamentary elections by Islamists, the Jordanian government is reportedly pursuing legal action against anyone inciting against casting a ballot.
"Many people in Jordan call for boycotting the elections, but no legal measures have ever been taken against them," Fahed Khitan, a political analyst in the Jordanian daily Al-‘Arab Al-Yom said.
Khitan told The Media Line that rumours of legal prosecution against election objectors were exaggerated since the law could only punish people “who physically prevent others from going to the ballots to vote."
Prime Minister Samir Al-Rifa’i has publicly encouraged Jordanians to partake in the elections. Yet various opposition parties, including the Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, have announced their intention to boycott the elections, scheduled for November 8.
"Our decision is not to participate,” Sheikh Hamza Mansour, a spokesman for the Islamic Action Front, told The Media Line. "It is also our right to influence the public. Freedom of expression is granted to all."
However, Mansour said the Islamic movement in Jordan did not officially call on the public to shun the elections. Rather, it was exerting its efforts on postponing them until an agreement could be reached with government on a new election law.
The opposition’s objection to the upcoming elections focused on Jordan’s current election law. The temporary law, known as "one-man-one vote," was issued by the Jordanian government in 1993 in an attempt to curb the power of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s main opposition group. By limiting the ballot in every election district to one candidate, the law reduced the ability of Islamists to win seats since they went up against tribal alliances in the kingdom.
Khitan said that some Jordanian parties, such as the Army Pensioners Movement and the left-wing Jordanian Popular Unity Party (JPUP), have publicly called on voters to abstain from voting on Election Day.
“It is our constitutional right to boycott the elections,” Dr. Said Diab, secretary general of the JPUP told The Media Line. “The Prime Minister’s threats are against the law and the constitution. We will continue to oppose the elections and to explain to the public why we are doing so.”
Diab added he believed the public did not have faith in the credibility of the monarchy’s election and would probably boycott the ballots “in great numbers.”
Muhammad Masri, a researcher at the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, said that changing the election law was the top priority for Jordan’s Islamists.
"Officials in the Islamic Action Front told me that if the electoral system was changed they would participate in the upcoming elections," Masri told The Media Line.
Masri said that Jordanian Islamists were endorsing an electoral system proposed in ‘the National Agenda’, a political initiative created by King Abdallah in 2005 to increase public participation in the political system.
The proposal included a 50-50 mix incorporating both a proportional and national electoral system, which could grant more power to Islamists.
"The second issue on the Islamists’ agenda is election transparency and fairness," Masri said. "They say that no serious revision was undertaken following the 2007 elections, which were not transparent."
Jordanian Islamists accused elements in the powerful General Intelligence Directorate and the Ministry of Internal Affairs for rigging the previous elections, and not being brought to justice for it, Masri added.
"They say that there is no guarantee that the upcoming elections will be free," he said.
The upcoming elections, which are to coincide with the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca known as Hajj, have instigated conspiracy theories among Islamists who argue that the timing was an intentional attempt by government to reduce the numbers of their voters since the pious would be abroad.
"I don’t know if this is true," Masri said. “But the Islamic Action Front relies not only on party functionaries, but mainly on ordinary religious people."
Jordan’s National Assembly consists of two chambers: the Senate, whose 55 members are directly appointed by the King, and the House of Representatives whose 80 elected members represent 12 constituencies. Parliament members and Senators serve a four year term.