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King Hussein’s loyalists win in Jordan’s parliamentary elections

November 5, 1997

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ Tribal leaders loyal to King Hussein defeated Muslim fundamentalists in Jordan’s parliamentary elections, strengthening the moderate monarch’s hand in running his nation.

With the vote count complete today, tribal chiefs, many of them centrists, won 68 seats in the 80-member lower house of Parliament. Independent fundamentalist candidates and their allies won only 12 seats after a leading Islamic party boycotted Tuesday’s vote.

The results were a setback to the fundamentalists and others who oppose Hussein’s pro-Western style and his 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

``I promise the people that I will serve this country and its leadership,″ declared Abdullah Aqayleh, who was dismissed as a leader of the Islamic Action Front for ignoring his fundamentalist party’s boycott to run in the elections.

Aqayleh is also a tribal leader and like other tribal chiefs has deep loyalty for Hussein. The king has given tribes top government and army posts, free education and health services and large tracts of lands to settle nomadic peoples.

Parliament’s 40-member upper house is appointed by the king. The Parliament has more powers than most Arab legislatures _ it adopts laws and can unseat governments. But the king has the power to veto its actions, dissolve it and rule by decree.

Because of these limitations, the Parliament is seen by voters more as a forum for voicing grievances than a symbol of democracy.

``People are more preoccupied with bread-and-butter issues,″ said Alaa Tadrus, a tire shop owner in Salt, a town 20 miles north of Amman.

``Leave politics on the side _ I want to feed my kids. Why should I care otherwise?″ Tadrus said, adding that he didn’t vote.

The Islamic Action Front and eight other parties said their boycott of the polls was a protest against the government’s restrictions on public freedoms, its economic policies and the peace treaty with Israel.

In the previous Parliament, the front controlled 15 seats _ the largest opposition bloc _ after fundamentalists cast votes cutting across traditional tribal loyalties.

At least 300 leaders of Jordan’s estimated 500 major tribes ran for office.

The elections are the third since Hussein introduced political and economic reforms in 1989. Before that, elections were suspended under a state of emergency going back to the 1967 Mideast War.

Only 54.5 percent of voters cast ballots, out of a 1.9 million pool of eligible voters. In comparison, the turnout was 68 percent in 1989 elections and 63 percent in 1993.

All 17 women among the 524 candidates lost.

Victors included Mansour Seifeddine Murad, a former guerrilla who was jailed in Greece for a 1969 grenade attack on the Athens office of Israel’s El Al airline that killed a child.

Murad was freed in a 1970 deal that won release of 55 hostages aboard a hijacked Olympic Airways jetliner.