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Independent Allies of King Abdullah Prevail in Jordan Vote - 2003-06-18

Independent candidates allied with Jordan's King Abdullah won most of the seats in Tuesday's parliamentary election. The main Islamist party is alleging fraud after it won about half the seats it was contesting.

Well more than half of the 110 seats in the lower house were won by independent candidates representing Jordan's major tribes and families, who have strong traditional ties with the Hashemite monarchy and are seen as supporters of King Abdullah.

Their victories will give the king's allies comfortable control of parliament, although there is a moderately strong bloc of opposition in the form of the Islamic Action Front.

The opposition group fielded about 30 candidates in the parliamentary poll and won about half of those seats. Their support in parliament will be boosted by a handful of people who ran as independent candidates, but are allied with the Islamist party.

The Islamic Action Front is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and is widely considered the most popular and well-organized opposition party in the country. The party boycotted the last election and is returning to parliament after a seven-year absence.

Islamic Action Front leaders believe they should have won more seats, and they are alleging electoral fraud in several areas of the country. Government officials admit there were a few scattered attempts to tamper with voter cards, but they are rejecting allegations of widespread or systematic fraud.

King Abdullah and senior government leaders are hoping this election will boost Jordan's democratic credentials with the international community. Planning Minister Bassem Awadallah told VOA he hopes the poll will stand as an example to other Arab states.

"I think it is very, very important that we are going ahead with these parliamentary elections," said Mr. Adwallah. "They testify to the fact that we are a democratizing society, that we are building the right kind of institutions, which ensure the checks and balances and which assure the fact that we will go ahead in terms of building a modern civil society."

It has been seven years since Jordan's last parliamentary election, and the country has functioned for the past 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.

For the first time, the Jordanian parliament will include six women, thanks to a new quota system that set aside those seats for female candidates. Many women ran for office in the capital, Amman, but all the quota seats were awarded to women from the outlying provinces.

The Amman candidates have complained that the system of awarding the quota seats was biased against women from large constituencies, such as the ones in the capital. Nadia Hashem Aloul is one of the Amman women who failed to win a quota seat.

"We could be more democratic if our political parties were more strong," said Ms. Aloul. "So they could include women on their lists, and they could support them in a quota for women on the political party list. This would be more democratic. Then we do not need quota at all for women."

Criticism of the weakness of Jordan's political parties is fairly widespread among analysts and political observers. Only four registered parties contested the election, including the Islamic Action Front, which is seen as the only party that is particularly well organized. The majority of candidates ran as independents.