Jordan is a constitutional monarchy, with its King holding most of the political power. The parliament is elected by the people, but proper campaigning and composition of political parties has been difficult for opposition parties due to the country’s electoral laws. In addition, the judicial system in Jordan is not independent and does not align with international standards. Since several reforms, elections became fairer and more free, as seen in the 2016 parliamentary elections. The candidates in the election stood mostly as independents, though the new election law made it also possible to run via party lists. Little has changed with regards to this in the 2020 parliamentary elections though. The loyalties of candidates often lie with tribal or family allegiances, instead with political parties. Officially many candidates continue to run as independents.
Just like after the 2016 elections, most of the candidates in the 130-seated parliament elected in 2020 are loyal to the government. The main opposition alliance, the Islamic Action Front based National Coalition for Reform, gained 10 seats. Similarly to earlier elections, the Islamic Action Front formed a broad coalition including Christians and Circassians. It has yet proven unsuccessful, as opposition forces have consistently declined in strength. In comparison with the 2016 elections, voter turnout decreased as well, lowering from 36.1% to 29.9%. Many Jordanians are fed up with the ongoing economic crisis, high unemployment, poverty and lack of political reform. The election also took place amid a rise in COVID-19 cases, which might have also contributed to the lowest voter turnout in a decade.
Foreign relations of the country are pro-Western, perceivable through the country’s historically close relations with the US and the UK. It is part of the Arab League and has signed several peace agreements, as, for example, the Washington Declaration, a non-aggression pact with Israel. Other challenges for the country include the rising presence of refugees from neighbouring Syria and regional instability. The COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s lockdowns measures have led to an economic crisis. It has been the worst year for Jordan’s economy in decades. With a recent Cabinet reshuffle and negotiated four-year deal with the IMF, the government hopes to get the country back on its feet.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan holds a strategic location in the Middle East, sharing borders with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel and the West Bank. Since Hussein bin Talal became King of Jordan in 1952 democratic institutions were introduced. After his death in 1999, Hussein’s oldest son, Abdullah, succeeded him. In his position as Chief of State, Abdullah II has followed a policy of continuing his father’s paternalistic style of rule from a moderate, pro-Western political viewpoint, claiming to gradually evolve the political landscape in Jordan from an autocratic state into a democracy with political pluralism.
However, this notion is fiercely contested by the opposition, which regards the King’s policies as anti-democratic and speaks of a deteriorating political situation. The extensive history of clans and tribes that traditionally comprise the majority in the parliament and the lack of freedom of the press are among the main challenges that hinder democratic reform in Jordan. At the same time, people protest against rising prices, corruption, and unemployment, inspired by revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, calling for the genuine constitutional reform, challenging the Hashemite Monarchy’s order. Also, protesters have been demanding full rights for women and calling for gender equality.
In 2019 large scale teacher protests erupted, which were quite exceptional for the country. To illustrate, the 2011 Arab Spring hardly impacted Jordan. After authorities used tear gas to disperse thousands of teachers who had congregated to press for the wage demands near government headquarters, the country’s longest public sector strike started. In many of the country’s rural areas and smaller cities, traditional heartlands of support for the monarchy, the strike also became a protest against successive governments’ failure to deliver on promises of economic growth. After one month of strikes, Jordan’s government has reached a pay deal (salary raise of 35-75 per cent depending on the ranks of the teacher) with the teachers union.
Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with a legal system mixed of Islamic law, codes instituted by the Ottoman Empire (which are based on French law) and British common law. The constitution was first proclaimed on 8 January 1952 and has since been amended several times to meet the Kingdom’s changing needs. The government consists of the Chief of State (the King), the executive Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, and the legislative National Assembly with two chambers: the House of Deputies and the Senate.
The King is the main power in Jordan and the monarch’s function is hereditary. The monarch has the power to appoint the Prime Minister as well as the Senate and to dissolve the House of Deputies at any time. Furthermore, the King is not obliged to appoint a Prime Minister or form a government from either the majority party or the parliament and currently prefers to rely on his own loyal supporters instead. Besides, the King signs and executes all laws. He appoints judges and may dismiss them by decree, as well as he may approve amendments to the constitution, declare war, and command the armed forces. His veto power can only be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the National Assembly. In practice this is most unlikely to occur, as most MPs are independents loyal to the King and his government.
There has been sharp criticism levelled at Abdullah II that he and his Jordanian regime restrict freedom of speech due to his amendment to the Jordanian Penal Code, to ensure the legislation of the punishment of all those who express dissent. Human rights organizations have criticized the King and his regime for several human rights violations and acts of torture committed against Islamic radicals and those who express dissent and criticism over his policies. The 2011 people’s unrest characterised by relatively peaceful demonstrations have challenged the power of the throne by calling, in particular, on the king to relinquish his power to appoint prime ministers and to provide the parliament with more functions.
The Prime Minister
The Prime Minister (PM) is appointed by the King and does not serve a fixed term. After the King’s mandate, the Prime Minister has the highest executive role. The Prime Minister has one or two Deputy Prime Ministers under his lead and forms the Cabinet in consultation with the monarch. As Jordan lacks organized political parties which enjoy parliamentary majorities or form coalition governments, the monarch usually picks up MPs with distinguished records in public life to form the cabinet.
Over the last decade, the king has changed the government many times. Samir Rifai was appointed as Prime Minister on 2 December 2009. In January 2011, following large popular street protests organized by Islamic and leftist groups and inspired by similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, Samir Rifai resigned. The protesters accused PM Rifai of being insensitive to their economic hardships. Rifai was replaced by Marouf Bakhit, a former Prime Minister, who was also a prominent figure in the peace process between Israel and Jordan, which led to the 1994 peace treaty. However, his government failed to tackle a number of important domestic policy areas.
On 16 October 2011, Awn al-Khaswaneh, a former royal court chief and legal adviser to Jordan’s peace negotiators, was appointed to replace Bakhit as Prime Minister. After Awn al-Khaswaneh on 26 April 2012 resigned out of discord with the King on the pace of reforms, Fayez Tarawneh was appointed to take over his position. Following the general elections in January 2013, King Abdullah II reappointed Ensour as Prime Minister on 9 March 2013. He was succeeded by Hani-Al Mulki at the beginning of June 2016.
Mulki was also appointed by the King to head the government after the elections of 20 October 2016. Having to manage Israeli-Jordanians relations was one of his biggest challenges. When Mulki introduced a new tax law in May 2018, big protests erupted in the whole country, which in the end forced him to resign. Omar Razzaz held the position as Prime Minister from that point onwards. On the 3rd of October Omar Razzaz was obliged to resign after the King had dissolved Parliament several days earlier. The current incumbent prime minister is Bisher Al-Khasawhneh. He was put forward by the King on the 22th of October and tasked to oversee the 2020 elections on November 10. On November 12 he assumed office and was expected to lead the government
The Upper House or Senate (Majlis al-Ayan) forms one half of the national legislature, the other being the House of Deputies. The Senate consists of 65 seats and members are appointed by the monarch from designated categories of public figures and long-serving politicians. The required age for membership is 40 years and none of its current members is associated with any party.
The Senate advises the House of Deputies on general policies and together the two chambers can curb the King’s powers. It is, in general, a respected institute, with a large influence in the public domain. Membership term in the Senate is four years, renewable by the King. The current president of the Senate is former prime minister Faisal al-Fayez. He was appointed on 25 October of 2015.
The House of Deputies
The House of Deputies (the House of Representatives) is the only political organ that is directly elected by Jordanian citizens through universal adult suffrage, which is not guaranteed by the constitutions and restricts citizens who are disabled or bankrupt from voting. It is elected for a four years term unless the monarch dissolves it earlier. From a total of 130 seats, 9 for Christians candidates, and 3 for Jordanians of Chechen or Circassian descent, according to the enacted Electoral Law of 2016. Furthermore, 15 seats are set for female representatives.
The parliament has the right to approve, reject or amend legislation proposed by the cabinet. However, it is limited in its ability to initiate legislation and it cannot enact laws without the assent of the Senate. Most of the representatives in the House of Deputies are not affiliated to a political party. This is a result of the clan history of the country, combined with the long period in which political parties were illegal. The current speaker of the House of Deputies is independent politician Atef Tarawneh.
2022 constitutional amendments
In January 2022, a new set of constitutional amendments quickly passed through the Jordanian upper and lower house. It increases concerns on the future of the Jordanian democracy, as power is increasingly centered in the hands of the monarchy. King Abdullah said that he wants to become a ‘constitutional monarch’ and that he wants Jordan to be a parliamentary democracy in ten years. However, the recent amendments seem to point in the opposing direction.
Among the changes is the formation of a new governmental body, the National Security Council. It contains the prime, foreign and interior ministers, the heads of the King’s security apparatus and others, appointed by the king. It holds wide-ranging powers and is described as ‘a fourth branch of government’ which can bypass the Council of Ministers or parliament.
Even more controversial is that King Abdullah receives the power to bypass the Council of Ministers in the appointment of powerful political appointments, such as the Chief Justice or Grand Mufti. King Abdullah already has an extensive set of powers in the Jordanian political landscape. These amendments clearly are a setback in creating a system of checks and balances, a feature needed for a well-functioning Jordanian democracy.
On the other hand, the constitution now gives more support for people prosecuted for party membership. It is a long-standing desire in Jordan that political parties gain the possibility to form a majority government, with the goal of re-invigorating political trust and legitimacy.
Representation of women and women’s rights
The number of female lawmakers dropped from 20 to 15 after the 2020 elections. Fifteen seats (out of the 130 seats) are reserved for women under a quota system, which means that no women were elected in competitive races in 2020. Women’s rights activists said that the disappointing results for women candidates in the parliamentary elections was expected due to “male dominance” on the proportional lists. The elections are determined by resources and the tribes, not by political parties. As a result, the more progressive youth and women in general continue to have little influence. Solidarity Is Global Institute (SIGI) Executive Director Asma Khader said in a statement: “The results are unfortunate but expected because the elections are basically money and tribes. It is not about the youth, women or political parties.” She added: “The road is still long and we need to increase the quota by at least 30 per cent, and this is an international figure that stipulates a change in the system.”
The Christian minority has 9 state-set seats, while there are 3 seats reserved for the Circassian and Chechen communities. It is widely believed that the King only introduced the quotas to show the world how much progress Jordan was making. However, the lack of women in Jordan’s parliament sadly represents the overall state of affairs with regards to women’s rights in the country. Many of its laws remain discriminatory, such as Jordan’s Personal Status Law. Despite a 2010 amendment that widened women’s access to divorce and child custody, Jordan’s Personal Status Law discriminates against women in many ways. Women still need the permission of their male guardian to marry and travel alone with their children. Even though travelling outside the country is permitted, requests of male guardians to stop their unmarried adult daughters, wives and children from travelling are regularly granted.
Furthermore, marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men remain prohibited, while Muslim men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women. In a similar discriminatory manner, Jordanian women married to non-Jordanian men cannot pass on the Jordan nationality to their children. The result is that such children of non-Jordanian men living in Jordan do not have the same social and economic rights as other citizens. In 2014 the government sought to implement some changes in this regard, with such children no longer needing work-permits for employment, but they continue to be denied access to many professions. As a consequence of the COVID-19 restrictions, international groups have reported an increase in dometic violence against women.
Regarding the January 2022 constitutional amendments, heavy discussion has arisen over the wording of women’s rights in the constitution. During a parliament hearing in February 2022 over de new constitution, a fistfight even erupted over it, after which several MPs were suspended. In the amendment, ‘women’ is added to the constitution’s second chapter: “Rights and duties of Jordanian men and Jordanian women”. This symbolic gesture is not legally binding and therefore far from enough. Despite continuous demands, article 6, which bans discrimination, still excludes gender-based forms of discrimination. In Jordan, the push for more women’s rights is heavily politicized and many have linked its campaign with sentiments of anti-Islam and anti-national identity. The new constitutional reforms call for more participation of youth and women, but still lack the tools do reach so. Current legislative amendments towards improving women’s rights are still far from enough in reaching the goals of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by the kingdom in 1992.
Jordan is considered to be a relatively advanced country in the region when it comes to LGBTI rights. It needs to be said that on many key issues there are many importants steps yet to be taken. Under British law homosexuality was forbidden, but when the country drafted its own law in 1951 homosexuality was not criminilized. Since then homosexual conduct has been legal. Under Sharia Law it remains prohibited, but it cannot be enforced under criminal law. However, when LGBTI people would publicly display affection, they can be prosecuted for disrupting public morality.
In general, LGBTI people continue to face heavy societal discrimination. This is illustrated by the fact that 93% of respondents in a 2019 poll believe that society should not accept homosexuality. LGBTI people often have to leave Jordan due to negative public attitudes, unfair police treatment or because they are under threat of being harmed by their family. Since 2013, homosexuality which is bringing dishonour to the family, is no longer a legal justification to beat or even kill a family member. This is an important change in the Penal Code of Jordan, but widerspread discrimination against LGBTI people in many ways sadly remains common
Several NGOs seek to support the LGBTI community in Jordan, including the UNHCR Jordan, OutRight Action International and Rainbow Street. It has been difficult to make change in the country, also because the media disallow broadcasting of content encourages deviance and public disorder. The 2014 and 2015 events held in Amman as part of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia caused quite some upheaval. The government responded to the 2015 event with a public statement, which said that LGBTI rights conflict with the Islam.
After 22 years, in 1989 the first elections were held in Jordan under King Hussein’s rule. The official ban on political parties from 1957 remained, but candidates ranged ideologically from the extreme left to the extreme right. Most of these independent candidates formed loosely organized blocs. Analysts state that these blocs were predominantly organised along with tribal and family ties, instead of along political or ideological affiliations.
Nevertheless, Islamists won 22 out of 80 parliamentary seats in the 1989 elections, a fact that motivated the King to initiate a policy of electoral de-liberalisation with the aim of decreasing the influence of Islamists on Jordan’s politics. Thus, a new 2001 Election Law introduced a controversial ‘one man, one vote’ electoral system, known as ‘single non-transferable vote system’. This system envisaged the redistribution of parliamentary seats, meaning that citizens vote for one candidate in their own district, with seats being awarded to the highest-polling individual candidates compatible with the number of seats in the district.
In 2010, a new temporary electoral law was unveiled, designed to set the ground rules for the 2010 parliamentary elections. It preserved the ‘single non-transferable vote system’ and changed the current electoral districts to electoral “zones”, each of which is broken down into multiple sub-districts.On 22 June 2012, after heated debates in Jordan’s parliament, the first permanent election law since 1989 was approved by a Royal Decree. Each voter was given two votes, one for a candidate at the district level and another for the closed proportional list. Compared to the former ‘single non-transferable vote system’, this system created a new electoral culture because each voter was able to pick a list of five candidates in his or her constituency.
2016 Election Law
During the run-up towards the 2016 parliamentary elections, yet another new Election Law was introduced. The controversial one-person-one-vote system was replaced with a list-based system designed to encourage political parties. Another new aspect in the law is that registration for the elections is not optional. Therefore, the number of eligible voters rose from 2,288,043 in the 2013 elections to 4,130,142 in 2016 (policy of active voter registration instead of passive voter registration).
In addition, the introduction of the Election Law saw a reduction in the number of seats in the Lower House from 150 to 130, while the women’s quota remained at 15. The Christian minority has 9 state-set seats, while there are 3 seats reserved for the Circassian and Chechen communities. It is widely believed that the King only introduced the quotas to show the world how much progress Jordan was making.
The 2016 Election Law has been criticized for leaving intact a voting system that favours sparsely populated tribal East Bank constituencies over the densely populated cities mostly inhabited by Jordanians of Palestinian descent, which are Islamic strongholds and highly politicized. For example, in one constituency in the city of Zarqa, 450,000 eligible voters who usually back Islamists have only six parliamentary seats. By contrast, in the southern tribal town of Maan, 59,000 voters choose four members of parliament. More than two-thirds of Jordan’s seven million people live in cities but are allocated less than a third of assembly seats.
2022 local elections
On March 22, 2022, Jordanians went to the polls in local elections to elect new municipal councils. Apathy and cynicism dominated these elections, as only 29.8 percent of Jordanians showed up to vote. The turn-out is two percent lower than in 2017. In Amman, turnout was lowest: 14.75%.
Organized parties were largely absent from these elections – especially as the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted the election. Of 4,646 nominated candidates, only seventy-four belonged to registered parties – demonstrating the large majority of tribal-affiliated nominees. Sixty out of seventy-four party-affiliated nominees were elected, all other elected representatives were running independent on a tribal platform. For the Jordan Social Democratic Party three women were elected in local councils. A party-affiliate was also elected as mayor – a good result for the party.
Generally, women did well in the elections. Sixty-eight women were elected beyond Jordan’s quota of 25 percent. It means that 27% of all council members are now female. Unfortunately, residents of Jordan’s thirteen Palestinian refugee camps are not allowed to vote. They vote for other committees instead and fall under the jurisdiction of the Jordanian Department of Palestinian affairs.
Some major violations were observed in the elections process. Dr. Amer Bani Amer, the director of Al Hayat Center for Civil Society Development in Amman held a press conference on March 22 in which he said that the “secrecy of voting was compromised in many polling booths”. He added that “there were cases of identity theft in a number of centers for women voters and there were clear signs of vote-buying in the capital Amman.” Information Minister Mohammad Momani refuted allegations of voter fraud and said that the election process met the requirements of transparency and fairness. The Jordanian government deployed 55,000 security personnel to monitor the election process.
On 12 November 2020, the most recent parliamentary elections were held in Jordan. The candidates stood mostly as independents, their loyalties rooted not in political parties but tribal and family allegiances. No seats were won by left-wing parties (social democrats, communists, nationalists), and not a single female candidate was able to secure a seat by gaining enough votes (only the requisite 15 women were elected). The parliament will remain in the hands of tribal factions, all loyal to the government.
Across the country, banners of around 1,700 candidates appealed to voters along mostly tribal and family loyalty lines. There were 360 female candidates. 393 candidates were affiliated to political parties. The government maintained the electoral system that under-represents densely-populated cities that are Islamist and Palestinian strongholds. Results showed the main opposition party, the Islamic Action Front based National Coalition for Reform, gained 10 seats. IAF forged electoral alliances with Christian, ethnic minority or tribal candidates in some areas to maintain two thirds of its 15 seats. A hundred newcomers joined the new parliament, including approximately 20 retired senior military officers.
Officials said turnout among the 4.64 million eligible to vote was 29.88%, the lowest participation rate in many years (in 2016 this was 37%). Even though Jordanians had more options to vote. The number of ballot boxes increased from around 4,800 to 8,061. In some districts of Amman, voter turnout was less than 13%. Outside of the capital turnout was higher, especially in rural and Bedouin areas.According to Khaled Kaladeh, chief commissioner of the state-run Independent Election Commission (IEC), “fear of coronavirus has impacted the level of participation”.
More importantly, the low turnout is the result of deep public discontent about the ongoing economic crisis, high unemployment and poverty and a lack of political reform. Many citizens had no faith in the previous parliament and did not feel that this election would bring MPs who can represent them. The feeling was that the people’s participation would only give legitimacy to a parliament that will provide a ‘democratic cover’ for further corruption. It shows that a growing majority of Jordanians are becoming indifferent to the role of parliament and that there is a lack of trust in the government
Politicians had urged Jordanians to vote amid widespread apathy and calls for a boycott of what many see as an almost toothless assembly packed with government loyalists powerless to make change. Most parties had to resort to discussions through online platforms as they were not allowed to hold any in-person activities, due to Covid-19 related measures. However,other types of huge gatherings – such as tribal gatherings in support of tribal parliament candidates – took place under the eyes of law enforcers without being interrupted. As can be concluded from the disappointing election results for opposition parties, it benefitted those loyal to the government.
The Jordanian Social Democratic Party (JSDP) was formed by a loosely cooperating group of social democrats in Jordan. In March 2016 it was officially registered as a political party and joinedthe Arab Social Democratic Forum and the Progressive Alliance.Its main goals are to strengthen democratic values and the role of parties in Jordanian politics. Furthermore it wants to promote dialogue between NGOs and the government and stands for problem solving through communication.
In the 2016 elections, the party participated for the first time, but did not get any seats. Its campaign emphasized on social democratic principles like social justice and equality. On 19 april 2019 the JDSP merged with the Civil Alliance party which holds one seat in the legislative. Jamil al-Nimri announced that by merging the two parties, a national platform for the social democratic state was established.
The Islamic Action Front (IAF) was founded in 1992, at the very beginning of the renewed political party life in Jordan. It is the country’s largest party and it relies on a large grassroots support. The party has always had strong ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the only political segment that was operating legally during the period of martial law. The Islamic Action Front’s principles are equal to those articulated in the Islamic law (the Sharia).
Since its foundation the IAF has always had seats in the parliament, except for 1997, 2010 and 2013 when the party boycotted the elections. In 2006 a massive fragmentation of the IAF took place, which led to internal divisions. During the parliamentary elections of 2003, the party gained 18 out of 110 seats, in 2007 – 6 out of 110. IAF did not get any seats in the 2010 election as it boycotted the elections calling for the abolishment of the ‘one man, one vote’ electoral system. In the parliamentary elections of 2013, the party reiterated its former statement.
In the 2016 elections, the party participated and gained 10 mandates for the Jordanian parliament, as part of the broad Coalition of National Reform, which gained 15 seats. It is one of the only opposition groups in the region that does not call for a regime change. In preparation for 2020 elections the party sought to form a broad alliance with Christian, ehtnic minority and tribal candidates, to maintain as many of its seats. Islamic Action Front based National Coalition for Reform gained 10 seats in the 2020 elections, losing 5 seats as an entire coalition.
The IAF boycotted the latest local elections in 2022, out of dissatisfaction with Jordan's latest constitutional reforms.
The Jordanian United Front Party was was founded in 2007. Current leader of this nationalist and loyalist party is Amjad al-Majali, a former government minister.
Abdullah II bin al-Hussein, born on 30 January 1962, is the reigning King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He ascended the throne on 7 February 1999 after the death of his father King Hussein.
King Abdullah is of half-British and half-Hashemite descent. He was decreed Crown Prince on 24 January 1991. Given his mixed heritage, this was a contested decision. Nevertheless, Abdullah, who claims to be the 43rd generation descendant of the prophet Muhammad, became King Abdullah II, and is continuing the work of his father by investing in peace building. In 2010, King Abdullah was chosen as the 4th most influential Muslim in the world.
Abdullah liberalized the economy when he assumed the throne, and his reforms led to an economic boom which continued until 2008. During the following years Jordan's economy experienced hardship as it dealt with the effects of the Great Recession and spillover from the Arab Spring, including a cut in its petroleum supply and the collapse of trade with neighboring countries. Abdullah responded quickly to domestic unrest by replacing the government and introducing reforms to the constitution and laws governing public freedoms and elections.
Bisher Al Khasawneh, born in 1969, assumed office as Prime Minister of Jordan on the 12th of November 2020. He was appointed by the King as Minister of Defense on the same day. Previously Khasawneh served as a diplomat and politician, functioning as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of State for Legal Affairs and as a personal advisor for the King. He took office amid the Covid-19 pandemic and an ongoing economic crisis. His goals, upon his assumption of office, were to overhaul the Jordan economy, develop Jordan’s social safety net and reduce public debt by reshuffling the country’s budget.
Jamil Thalji Nimri was born in 1952 and holds a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy since his studies in Italy. Originally a journalist, he used to write for Al-Ghad news between 2005 and 2010 and analysed politics for the Al-Arab al-Yawm newspaper. Between 1996 and 2007 he also hosted a political talk show on broadcaster Jordanian TV.
He is a founding member and spokesperson of the former Democratic Left Party in Jordan, but has joined the JSDP after its establishment. Nimri has been a member of parliament since 2010 as one of the by electoral law predefined 9 Christians, but lost his seat after the elections of 2016.
Murad Al-Adaileh has been the leader of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) since he was appointed as Secretary General of the party. The IAF is considered to be the country's political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. With his party he promotes for the implementation of Sharia law in Jordan. Under the leadership of Al-Adaileh the IAF gained 10 seats in parliament during the 2020 election. Recently Al-Adalieh attended a protest against the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China.
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