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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Jordan local elections provide testing ground for Muslim Brotherhood

While the results give the movement little additional power nationally, they do give a chance for the Brotherhood to boost its popularity depending on how effective they can be in running municipalities

A Jordanian woman casts her ballot at a polling station for local and municipal elections in Amman, Jordan, August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A Jordanian woman casts her ballot at a polling station for local and municipal elections in Amman, Jordan, August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

AMMAN // Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood won several seats in local and municipal elections in a boost to the group’s provincial presence after they boycotted the vote ten years ago.

The results - which included three Islamist mayors, two in densely populated cities – were a chance for the movement to test its popularity after being weakened and marginalised in the fallout from the Arab Spring.

While the results give the movement little additional power nationally, they do give a chance for the Brotherhood to boost its popularity depending on how effective they can be in running municipalities, providing services and overseeing development projects for citizens eager for change.

The Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, said three out of six candidates it fielded to head municipalities won, while 25 out of its 48 other candidates won seats in new "decentralisation" councils.They also won five seats in Amman’s greater municipality. They also won 41 seats in municipal and local councils.

“They have fielded limited candidates and have won in areas that have historical influence,” said Oraib Rantawi the head of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies.

“This is a big win for them and indicates that they remain popular and that the policies that were adopted against them did not succeed.

“The IAF will seek to widen its popular base and if they succeed in running the municipalities this will help them build momentum in future elections.”

On Tuesday, 31.7 per cent out of 4.1 million eligible voters cast their ballots for local and municipal elections, according to the Independent Election Commission.

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Read more:

Back in parliament, the Brotherhood is treading cautiously

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood on track to return as opposition force

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Jordanians voted for the first time for mayors and members of municipal and governorate councils under a new law to decentralise power, which went into force last year.

Prime Minister Hani Mulki described the polls as a historic milestone in the country's comprehensive reform drive, according to Petra News Agency.

In 2007, the Brotherhood withdrew from municipal elections, blaming vote rigging.

“No doubt this is a big victory for us given the fact that we have fielded limited candidates,” said Ali Abu al Sukkar, the deputy head of the Islamic Action Front, who won as the mayor of Zarqa. The city is Jordan’s third most populated with 1.364 million people living there.

“We want to rehabilitate Zarqa city and create a clean environment by finding solutions to garbage disposal and pollution,” he said. “We also want to put an end to administrative and financial.”

Despite their victory in local and municipal elections, it will not improve their position within the state,” said Muhammad Abu Rumman, an expert on Islamic movements in the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.

“They do not have a vision for developmental projects,” he said. “But they want to flex their muscles that they are still powerful despite the crackdown and the splits in the movement. Also they want to restore their political clout and improve their standing with the state.

“It is a symbolic victory. Two out of three of the municipalities that they won are densely populated. Zarqa, has tribes and Jordanians of Palestinian origin … But this will not have an impact on their ties with the state. It does not regard them as a powerful group like it used to before the Arab Spring.”

The final outcome of the elections was expected on Wednesday night.

In 2015, the government declared the main Brotherhood group illegal and gave the licence to another Brotherhood branch.

Last year, the Islamic Action Front also contested the parliamentary elections after they boycotted them in 2013 to protest against electoral laws which they say underrepresented them.

The party won eight seats out of 130 for the first time in a decade, while its allies won another seven. Still, given their limited numbers, they have limited clout in parliament.

Amer Sabaileh, a political analyst and director of Middle East Media and Political Studies Institute, said since the parliamentary elections brotherhood is undergoing a process of rehabilitation.

“They tried to restore their legitimacy by participating in the parliamentary elections and now in the local and municipal elections. But it is clear now that the group, which was once considered a staunch supporter of Hamas and Qatar, and thought they will claim power during the Arab spring protests are no longer the hawks they used to be. They know they can work just under the umbrella of the state,” he said.