The Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Islamic Action Front Party (IAFP), has brought an end to its boycott of parliamentary elections after six years, announcing that preservation of national interests due to current regional developments initiated the decision.
IAFP Shura Council leader Abdul Latif Arabiyat stated that the party decided to end its self-imposed political isolation in view of “the dangers facing the entire region”, indicating the American and British occupation of Iraq and the situation in the Palestinian territories.
The decision to compete in the June 17th elections, the first to be held since King Abdullah ascended to the throne, was agreed unanimously by IAFP's 120-member Shura Council in an emergency meeting last Friday. Such a move may signal a new era of improved relations between the influential Muslim Brotherhood movement and the government.
IAFP Shura Council leader
Abdul Latif Arabiyat
IAFP was not the only party to protest 1997’s elections, 13 other opposition groups also decided not to participate in the parliamentary elections, protesting against the controversial one-person, one-vote system that has strained political relationships with the government.
The Muslim Brotherhood, widely viewed as a parent movement to the IAFP, had previously enjoyed close ties with the state up until the late nineties. This changed when IAFP and Brotherhood leaders complained of moves to isolate opposition parties.
Last week's meeting between King Abdullah II and overall Brotherhood leader Abdul Majid Thuneibat, seems to have opened a channel for dialogue, solving the problems that will lead to IAFP participation.
The Brotherhood announced that the Shura Council, their highest policy making body, would declare its position over participation by the end of this week, the IAFP has already stated that its decision was final and not subject to influence by the Brotherhood.
“It is the party's prerogative. The IAFP is independent from the movement. Its administration, council and all related bodies are independent from the Brotherhood,” Arabiyat explained.
Mr Arabiyat also voiced his hope that the Brotherhood would take a similar view, but no one expects a huge difference of opinion. However, the party's decision to run for election was still only made “in principle,” he stressed, adding that there was a condition which will be given by its executive office to the government in the near future.
“We will react in light of the office's recommendations based on the government's responsiveness,” he said.
Abdul Lateif Arabiyat (L) standing
with Isahq Al-Farhan
IAFP's executive office, which will begin debating the decision to run this week, is responsible for working out their precise policy for polling and weighing all available options.
Their list of requests are expected to include a demand for the redistribution of parliamentary seats to aid representation, amend voting procedures to ensure transparency and guaranteeing that the judiciary acts as an immediate supervisor and arbitrator over the process.
The country's present Elections Law, a temporary measure passed in the absence of Parliament last July, was supposed to simplify registration, voting and counting procedures.
But party leaders and analysts were adamant that the law failed to rectify demographic inequalities among electoral districts, despite the increases in the number of parliamentary seats from 80 to 104 and the doubling of the number of constituencies, from 21 to 45. Six new seats were later introduced exclusively for women by the government.
The essence of the political dispute, however, was when the government retained the one-person, one-vote system - this triggered the 1997 boycott. It ignored repeated calls by many parties for the replacement of a controversial formula whereby parliamentary seats allocated for political assemblies are distributed according to a proportional system.
“We hope our decision to rescind the boycott will be appreciated and looked at positively by the other side [the government],” Arabiyat said.
Although the IAFP left its decision to the last minute, analysts had been expecting it to end its boycott, observing the party's popularity with the electorate had dwindled in recent years.
The party, which has the largest membership base in the country, boasted 22 seats in the 1989 11th Parliament and contested the 1993 polls (in spite of the one-person, one-vote system) winning only 16 seats.
IAFP's decision to participate in an overdue election is expected to prompt other undecided opposition parties to take part as well.