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Jordan Tallies Parliamentary Election Votes - 2003-06-17


Election officials in Jordan are tallying results of Tuesday's parliamentary election. Observers are watching closely to see how many seats the main Islamist party will win. And an unprecedented number of female candidates are waiting to see who will win the seats that, for the first time, are reserved for them.

A key feature of this election is the almost certain return to parliament of the Islamic Action Front, or IAF. It is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and is widely considered the most popular and well-organized opposition party in the country.

The IAF boycotted the last election but fielded 30 candidates in this one. Some political analysts have predicted the Islamist party and its allies could win a quarter of the seats in parliament.

The party has been extremely critical of the current government, and is expected to be a strong opposition voice in the next legislature.

The incoming parliament is expected to be dominated by tribal candidates who are allied with Jordan's King Abdullah. Speaking to Jordanian state television, the king expressed little concern about the IAF's return to electoral politics.

"We always knew that they were going to enter into elections," he said. "There was no doubt about that. They're part of the social and political fabric of this nation, and part of the political process that we're all about. So I'm glad that they are entering into the elections. There was never any doubt that they would. And this is part of the democratic process."

It has been seven years since Jordan's last parliamentary election, and the country has functioned for the last two years without a parliament. King Abdullah dissolved the last legislature after its term ended in 2001, but postponed the election because of instability in the region.

When the new lawmakers take office, for the first time some them are guaranteed to be women. Jordan has introduced a new quota system, which reserves six seats in the lower house for female candidates. Although more than half of Jordanian citizens are women, only one woman has been directly elected to parliament here before, and the last legislature had no women at all.

One of the female candidates, Nadia Hashem Aloul, was vying for a seat in Amman. Even if she doesn't win, she hopes the six or more women who do go to parliament will set a positive example.

"This is a good try, and I hope that credible women are going to reach parliament because it's going to be a good experience for Jordanian women, for Jordanian society," she said. "And Jordanian citizens will see a positive role of women in parliament. This will encourage them in the future to vote for women for competitive seats, or for quota. And then we don't need a quota at all."

The quota system is credited with attracting an unprecedented number of female candidates to run for parliament. More women were on the ballots in this election than in every other parliamentary poll in Jordan's history combined. Ironically, Mrs. Aloul believes the relatively low voter turnout in her district might actually help her win one of the quota seats, because of the relatively complicated mathematical formula that will decide which female candidates go to parliament.

Around the country, election officials said voter turnout was better in this election than in the last one. More than half of the eligible voters are reported to have cast their ballots, and more than half of those voters were women. The turnout was highest in the south; over 80 percent in three cities. But it was very low in the capital, Amman, where only about 44 percent of the voters went to the polls.

Final results of the election are expected sometime Wednesday.

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