By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood has gained a foothold in parliament after ending a decade-long boycott and returning to the fray as the mainstay of a broad civic alliance, according to preliminary results released on Thursday.
The Islamists, easily Jordan's biggest organized political grouping, had shunned previous elections in protest at a system that skews representation toward thinly populated rural areas dominated by tribal politics, rather than the cities, where the Brotherhood is strong.
But under pressure from a government crackdown that followed Islamist-led protests in the wake of the Arab Spring, the Brotherhood's political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), ditched its "Islam is the Solution" slogan and joined Christians and prominent national figures to create the National Coalition for Reform (NCR).
Preliminary results from Tuesday's election indicated that the NCR had won at least 16 of the 130 seats.
Zaki Bani Rusheid, a prominent Brotherhood leader, said the NCR would seek alliances with others to try to form an effective opposition.
Although Jordan has no ruling party, its government, appointed by King Abdullah, has for years faced little or no opposition from a parliament dominated by pro-government tribal leaders, businessmen and ex-security officials, often elected on promises to address local rather than national concerns.
Although the NCR will not be able to block legislation or cabinet appointments, it should nevertheless bring livelier debate to what has been almost a rubber-stamp assembly whose passivity has allowed successive governments to enact draconian temporary laws restricting public freedoms.
Although the vote represents a modest step in the democratization process launched by the king, a staunch U.S. ally, as he seeks to insulate Jordan from the conflicts at its borders, the NCR is likely to use the platform to air demands for a more representative electoral system.
The alliance won at least one seat in nearly every major multi-member constituency, according to initial results.
In the capital's affluent third district, home to many government agencies as well as much of the business and political elite, the alliance won three of seven seats.
Although the national turnout was a mere 37 percent, analysts said it would have been significantly lower if the Islamists had not taken part.
International observers praised Jordan for holding relatively well-administered elections at a time of regional turbulence, but urged broader political representation.
"There is no equality of the vote. Under the current districting, large urban areas are under-represented, and sparsely populated or rural areas are considerably over-represented,” the EU's chief observer, Jo Leinen, told reporters.
Many of the citizens in the major cities, where over two-thirds of the population live, are of Palestinian descent. Their political empowerment in a country where native Jordanian tribes hold power is a sensitive issue.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)