Islamists lose seats in Jordanian elections

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AMMAN, Nov 21 (Reuters) Preliminary results from Jordan's parliamentary elections showed the opposition Islamist party lost more than half its seats in an election it said was marred by fraud.

Islamic Action Front (IAF) candidates won only six of the 22 seats they fought in yesterday's elections for the 110-seat assembly, according to official results announced by the Interior Ministry.

The IAF won 17 seats in 2003, when it ended a boycott that had turned parliament into a pro-government talking shop, and became the only real opposition in the assembly.

Initial figures today showed a turnout of 55 per cent of 2.4 million eligible voters.

The IAF, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and by far the largest organised political grouping, was the only party contesting yesterday's elections. The results consolidated the power of tribal leaders, pro-government candidates and influential businessmen tied to the royal family.

Jamil Abu Bakr, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters widespread violations cast doubt on the fairness of the results.

''This is an electoral massacre... violations by far exceeded even the last elections... it will have harmful repercussions on the country's political progress. It will force us to reconsider our participation in future elections,'' Abu Bakr said.

The government has strongly denied allegations of fraud -- including mass transfers of voters by pro-government candidates to their districts, as well as either deregistration of likely opponents or multiple voting by government supporters.

''These allegations are baseless. The government has conducted impartial and fair elections,'' Interior Minister Eid al-Fayez told reporters.

Abu Bakr said the IAF would also study withdrawing from the new parliament and denounced what he called ''a stepped up campaign to marginalise our representation''.

The IAF also demanded cancelling the ballot results of at least half a dozen constituencies where it said extensive vote rigging took place.

The Islamists reluctantly contested the elections which they said took place under an election law where districts were tailored to counter its popular support.

The elected legislature wields little real power and although it can introduce legislation most of the laws are drafted by the government.

Yesterday's polls were the second parliamentary vote under the reform-minded King Abdullah who ascended the throne in 1999 amid a wave of hope he would democratise the country.

Reuters RJ RN2034

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