Is Election Success for Jordan’s Islamists Cause for Concern?

jordan-map-2Jordanian Islamists will return to parliament after a 10-year hiatus following an election on September 20. It‘s not yet clear how many seats the Islamist bloc will take, however, their return to office does not necessarily mean problems for the monarchy.

The Islamists boycotted the polls in 2010 and 2013 arguing that the electoral system worked against their interests. A change in the voting system led the group to stand for election this time around.

In an election that would seem odd to most Westerners, some 226 parties competed for just 130 seats in the legislature.

The election took place in the shadow of rising unemployment, fears of a spillover of fighting from Syria and Iraq and the hosting of myriad refugees.

Initial results suggest the National Coalition for Reform bloc (a joint list with the Islamist party, the Islamic Action Front, as the largest member) will take some 13-16 seats. The bloc is likely to be the largest opposition bloc in the new parliament.

Jordan's absolute monarch King Abdullah
Jordan’s absolute monarch King Abdullah

The question is whether or not this return poses a threat to King Abdullah.

Initially there does not appear to be a direct threat – indeed this might even create greater stability in the Hashemite kingdom.

The vote was for the lower house, whose main functions are to pass laws, approve the state budget and show confidence in the government. However, the upper house in parliament has seniority and can block legislation that emanates from the lower house. The upper house and government are appointed by Abdullah, an absolute monarch.

The king also controls the appointment of judges and intelligence officials without requiring governmental approval.

The monarch derives his power from tribal loyalty and some officials from the Islamic Action Front are members of these tribes. There is a common interest, therefore, in Islamist participations in the elections.

Islamists hoped the Arab Spring coupled with the boycott of the previous elections would increase their popularity, while diminishing the popularity of the king. However, with time, they understood Abdullah remained strong, while they were losing ground.

Simultaneously, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Libya were in decline.

Jordan’s Islamists understood they now have the opportunity to return to the political fore to be a more fighting opposition.

Abdullah told the U.N. General Assembly last week the election was a true victory given current events in Jordan and the surrounding countries. Both he and Queen Rania said they welcomed the participation of Islamists in the election.

Initial analysis suggests Abdullah is the big winner here because Islamist participation in the elections shows they realize they have to participate in a system of government which is monarch-dominated. Essentially, they have given the monarchy a renewed vote of confidence.

With the Islamists in parliament, the king will also be able to better monitor Islamist activities in the country.

All in all, at least in the short term, King Abdullah can heave a sigh of relief, particularly as the Islamist bloc was tipped to win as many as 20 seats. And while the terror threat is never far away from Jordan, on the political level, Abdullah knows he has stability for some time to come.

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