Jordan's King Abdullah calls early elections

A woman holds up a banner saying "No to an expired government" at a protest demanding political reforms in Amman (4 May 2012) The dissolution of parliament comes on the eve of an opposition rally to demand reform

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Jordan's king has dissolved parliament, paving the way for early polls ahead of protests seen as his biggest challenge since the start of the Arab Spring.

The decree follows Abdullah II's pledge to bring in political reforms aimed at avoiding anti-government unrest.

Jordanians have been pressing for a greater say in how their country is run and demanding corruption be tackled.

Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood said in July its political party, the Islamic Action Front, would boycott the polls.

The group has called for the monarch's powers to be curtailed, and for an overhaul of the parliamentary system in which the prime minister is appointed by the king rather than elected. It has said it would boycott polls until such measures were introduced.

King Abdullah said recently a new parliament would elect a prime minister early next year.

Calls for change

Ahead of Thursday's royal decree, the Muslim Brotherhood said its "Friday to Rescue the Nation" rally to demand reforms would go ahead in central Amman.

"We are talking about a new phase after 20 months of continued popular protests and unwillingness to listen to our demands for reform," Zaki Bani Rusheid, the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters of the rally.

King Abdullah (2 May 2012) King Abdullah has been keen to show he is responsive to public dissatisfaction

"We are calling for real reforms that restore power to Jordanian people and curb the powers of those who have seized power and influence for decades."

So far, protests in Jordan have been more peaceful than elsewhere in the region.

The king says the fact the country's small-scale protests have not built up popular momentum is because he has shown himself to be serious about reform.

Following the example of his father, Hussein, King Abdullah has presented himself with considerable success as a unifying force, a constitutional monarch representing the will of his people, says the BBC's Arab affairs analyst Sebastian Usher.

But the IAF, emboldened by the recent success of Islamist parties in Egypt and Tunisia, says reform is coming too slowly.

Economic problems, long-standing corruption, new internet restrictions and the conflict in neighbouring Syria have fuelled calls for change.

Worryingly for King Abdullah, the taboo on directly criticising the palace appears to have been breached, adds our analyst.

The king has dissolved parliaments and sacked prime ministers before in order to show that he is responsive to public dissatisfaction.

But it is the wielding of that kind of power that the Islamists and democracy activists believe is preventing true reform, he adds.

A counter-demonstration by supporters of King Abdullah planned for Friday appears now to have been cancelled amid concerns it would provoke clashes.

The royal decree gave no date for the elections, but King Abdullah had previously said he wanted fresh elections by the end of 2012.

Jordan's constitution stipulates that the cabinet must resign within a week of the parliament's dissolution.

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