Jordan monarch urges Islamists to end poll boycott

AMMAN Tue Oct 23, 2012 2:52pm EDT

1 of 2. Jordan's King Abdullah addresses a large gathering of opposition and tribal figures at the royal palace in Amman October 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Yousef Allan/Royal Palace/Handout

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's King Abdullah on Tuesday called on the country's Islamist opposition to end a boycott of forthcoming parliamentary elections he said would usher in a new era of political reforms.

In an address to a large gathering of opposition and tribal figures at the royal palace, the monarch said the opposition could achieve a wider say in the running of the country by participating in parliamentary elections due on January 23.

"My message to you and to all the political forces if you want to change Jordan for the better, there is an opportunity through the coming elections and through the new parliament," the monarch told an audience of several thousand people from across the political spectrum.

"The door is open to everyone, including the opposition to be in the coming parliament," he told guests who included leaders of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, and the country's most effective opposition.

The monarch dissolved parliament half-way through its two-year term this month and appointed a new government to oversee what he hoped would be free and fair elections.

The Islamic Action Front (IAF) is boycotting the polls, saying the voting system discriminates against it by limiting its electoral gains by under-representing constituencies in heavily populated cities, where its support is strong.

"Those who want additional reforms or developing the electoral law can work under the dome of the next parliament and through the ballot box," the monarch said.

The Islamists and a vocal tribal opposition have led nearly two years of peaceful street protests inspired by the wave of Arab revolts calling for reforming the government and limiting King Abdullah's powers.

The Hashemite monarchy acts as a guarantor of stability among feuding tribes who seek his protection and a balance between the country's citizens of Palestinian origin and native Jordanians. Few people want to topple the king.

Officials accuse the Islamists, emboldened by the ballot box successes of their ideological partners in Egypt and Tunisia, of seeking to monopolize power and to undermine a tribal base that is the backbone of support for the monarchy.

Abdullah warned the opposition not to exploit the grumblings of ordinary Jordanians in an aid dependent country facing unprecedented economic challenges and rising foreign debt.

"We believe in the right of the opposition to be true and original partners in the political process away from opportunism, glittery slogans and exploiting difficult economic conditions and people's emotions," he said.

But in a veiled warning to the Islamists, Abdullah said :"No group is allowed to claim they hold a monopoly over the truth."

Unlike countries such as Egypt and Syria where their fellow Islamists were persecuted, Jordan's mainstream Islamists were allowed for decades to operate to counter left-wing ideology.

In a conciliatory gesture of goodwill, the monarch also pardoned 20 tribal opposition activists who were charged with insulting him publicly in recent protests.

For the first time he openly responded to calls for his removal by a minority of tribal protesters, echoing the rallying cry of the Arab spring wave of revolts.

"Let us talk about some of the slogans that a small number of protesters carried: "Down with the regime ... First what is the regime? The regime is the state in all its institutions."

Abdullah stressed his Hashemite dynasty's credentials as benevolent rulers untainted by the bloody crackdown on dissent witnessed by other rulers in the region.

"Hashemite rule was never for us about holding a monopoly on power, nor about power and its tools, but about supporting state institutions according to the constitution," Abdullah said.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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