Middle East

Islamist vote boycott 'miscalculation': Jordan king

King Abdullah II speaking during an interview with AFP in Amman on September 12, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/HO/JORDANIAN ROYAL PALACE)

AMMAN: Jordan's King Abdullah II vowed on Wednesday to have a new parliament by the new year, saying a decision by Islamists to boycott the vote was "a tremendous miscalculation," in an exclusive interview with AFP.

"As constitutional monarch, my mandate is to be the umbrella for all political groupings and all segments of our society, and as part of that responsibility, I am telling the Muslim Brotherhood that they are making a tremendous miscalculation," the king said.

"The countdown to the elections has already started. Registration is under way. We have already crossed the one-million person mark. Parliament will be dissolved. The elections date will be announced. And we will have a new parliament by the new year."

The Brotherhood's shura advisory council in July voted to boycott parliamentary elections because of "lack of political reform," while other political parties have said they would do the same.

"Let me be clear again, we will hold early elections, and every Jordanian citizen should not be deprived of his or her right to register and vote because of such misinformation," the king said.

He said voter registration will be "a critical step and milestone along our roadmap to reform... the upcoming elections are the fundamental requirement for this transition."

"This election will determine not only the make-up of the new parliament, but also that of the new parliamentary government."

The Islamists and other opposition parties have said they were considering a boycott of the polls over a new electoral law under which voters cast two ballots: one for individual candidates in their governorates and one for parties or coalitions nationwide.

King Abdullah has ordered parliament to increase seats reserved for party candidates, urging the Islamists to take part in the polls.

MPs raised the number from 17 to 27, but failed to satisfy opposition groups.

"This elections law is not perfect. We all understand that. But there is no better consensus on an alternative. What is critical is that we keep going forward, and -- mark my words -- we will have a new parliament by the new year," the king said.

"So I am telling the Muslim Brotherhood, you have a choice. To stay in the street or to help build the new democratic Jordan."

According to the constitution, elections take place every four years, but Jordan held early polls in 2010 after the king dissolved parliament.

The Islamists boycotted those elections in protest at constituency boundaries, saying they over-represented loyalist rural areas at the expense of urban areas seen as Islamist strongholds.

They have repeatedly demanded sweeping changes that would lead to a parliamentary system in which the prime minister would be elected rather than named by the king.

"The elections law was passed based on consensus, not flawless, but the best achievable consensus, given the current parliament at this time," the Jordanian monarch said.

"The current law completed all required constitutional steps. Polls show it is supported by a comfortable, almost two-thirds, majority of Jordanians. And we cannot in Jordan create a law tailored to just one political party or minority grouping that happens to be the most vocal."

But the king said that "the next parliament, which will be elected through transparent and free polls, will have the opportunity to amend the law, and revisit the electoral system."

"So, on the elections law -- and beyond the elections law, to every issue that matters to any Jordanian -- my message to all parties and political forces is this: if you want to change Jordan for the better, there is a way and there is an opportunity."





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