Jordan election a ‘small step toward democratic reform’


Jordan‘s parliament election on Tuesday is being touted as proof that the pro-Western monarchy is moving forward with democratic reforms despite regional turmoil and security threats, AP’s Karin Laub writes:

Officials point to new rules of voting and the participation of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood for the first time in almost a decade. But critics argue that this year’s electoral reform – ostensibly meant to strengthen political parties – has fallen short and that the revised system continues to favor King Abdullah II’s traditional tribal supporters.

The new election rules are “a step forward, but it is not yet enough to create a serious breakthrough on the reform track,” said analyst Oraib al-Rantawi. The rules replace the “one man, one vote” system that was introduced in 1993 and weakened political parties.

For many, this year’s elections signify a historic moment, with some hopeful that the switch to lists will encourage the consolidation of parties with more focused political objectives, Middle East Eye adds.

“We are entering a new era,” said Mohammad Hussainy, political analyst and head of Jordan Reform Watch and Integrity Coalition for Election Observation.

With the exception of the opposition Islamists, who can count on grassroots support, other candidates rely on tribal and family connections, AFP adds:

Experts expect that the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, will win around 20 seats in the 130-seat parliament, making it the largest opposition force. The IAF boycotted elections in 2010 and 2013 in protest at the then electoral law which played in favor of pro-government and tribal candidates, but decided to stand this year after the law was amended.

In Tuesday’s election, Jordanians will choose 130 members of parliament, with 15 seats reserved for women, nine for Christians and three for minority Chechens and Circassians. More than 4 million Jordanians over the age of 17 are eligible to vote, more than twice the number in the 2013 election, when voters had to pre-register, AP’s Laub adds:

Under the new rules, the country is divided into 23 districts, and voters choose candidates from competing lists in their district. In all, 1,252 candidates are running on 226 district lists. Voters can select one or more candidates on a list.

Only six percent of the lists are affiliated with a specific political party, 11 percent have some party representatives, 39 percent are independent and 43 percent are based on tribal affiliations, according to the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-based non-partisan group that seeks to promote democracy.

“The majority of voters base their voting habits on tribal affiliations, community roots and identity rather than approaches to policy,” said the group, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.

According to a recent survey, 40 percent of eligible voters said they would not show up at the ballot box, DW adds:

The frustration comes from genuine lack of political power, but also from Jordan’s democratic culture. Many people tend to vote according to tribal and personal loyalties, dampening the force of strong policies and visions representing people’s needs.

“People don’t think or believe that we’re a real democracy. They don’t trust the institutions of parliament,” Jamil Nimri, a current independent member of parliament who’s running again in the northern city of Irbid, told DW….Odai Bisharat, an activist with youth movement Shaghaf, agrees with that sentiment. He believes politicians like Nimri, who he describes as taking an active role in representing his community, are few and far between: he says most parliamentarians are distant from the communities they’re meant to represent, and lacking practical vision for politics.

U.S.-based analyst David Schenker said Jordan invests in regular elections in part to polish its image in the eyes of Western military and financial backers.

“We know that the West has a special regard for Jordan, and we know that Jordan, because of this high regard … is able to charge very high rent,” said Schenker, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank.

“It costs money to do these elections and there are some risks involved, but for Jordan it’s important to display that the kingdom is different from other Arab states,” he said.

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