AMMAN — With the naming of the Independent Elections Commission’s (IEC) members, His Majesty King Abdullah put in motion one of the most ambitious projects in the country’s reform process.
Yet with parliamentary polls a few months away, observers say pressure is on for the commission to restore public trust in what is widely viewed as one of the most important elections in the Kingdom’s history.
The Monarch met with Lower House deputies on Monday over the myriad of constitutional amendments, laws and national dialogues formed over the last year-and-a-half.
He said these efforts will be rendered “meaningless” should the country fail to hold successful and transparent parliamentary elections by the end of the year (see separate story).
A Royal Court official said seriousness and swiftness are the name of the game.
“All the efforts His Majesty has been exerting lately, including the formation of the new government and the IEC, are a clear indication that he is urging everyone to work harder and faster. His message is: ‘We have no luxury of time’.”
All these efforts, the Palace official said on condition of anonymity, should lead to parliamentary elections to call them a success.
Experts say with Sunday’s selection of judicial experts and political veterans such as Abdul Ilah Khatib and Mohammad Ali Alawneh, the King sent a message to officials: Failure is not an option.
“These are very good choices that enjoy good relations with all parties, are knowledgeable about Jordan and enjoy good support from the public,” said Musa Shteiwi, director of the University of Jordan’s Centre for Strategic Studies.
“Now it will be up to them to set a vision and see it through.”
Khatib and the new commission will have much promise and expectations to live up to.
The success of upcoming elections largely rests on the legitimacy of the commission, which observers describe as “the most important outcome” of the overhaul of the country’s Constitution last year.
“Out of all the amendments, out of all the changes, the recognition of the need for an independent organisation to oversee elections was the most important step,” said Musa Maaytah, former political development minister.
The importance of a single body overseeing and administering elections, long the domain of the interior ministry and the executive authority, clears a “conflict of interest” that undermined the legitimacy of previous parliaments.
“For the first time, the country will have one body covering all aspects of the elections in a clear and transparent manner,” said Mahmoud Kharabsheh, Lower House Legal Committee chairman and one of the architects of the committee’s law.
“And with this clarity comes public trust.”
One of the greatest strengths of the nascent body, which was modelled off the electoral commissions formed in several Arab states over the last two years, is learning from others’ successes and failures, observers say.
“We have looked at Iraq, we have looked at Egypt and Tunisia,” said Maaytah.
“There is no reason that this committee shouldn’t live up to its promise.”
Like the Egyptian and Tunisian experiences, time is not on the commission’s side, experts say.
With parliamentary elections a few months away, underlined by the King as key to the success of the country’s reform process, experts say Khatib and the board face an uphill struggle in establishing a culture of transparency and accountability before the first ballot is cast.
“The greatest challenge facing this commission is clearly time,” Maaytah said.
In the months ahead, the commission must train batches of cadres who must learn how to administer and monitor polls in regions as diverse as the badia, refugee camps and urban centres.
Logistics aside, observers say the commission will also carry the burden of asserting its authority as the sole body concerned with elections and translating the powers guaranteed under the law on the ground.
“Legally speaking, we have all done our part to ensure that this electoral commission has all the tools necessary to carry out its work and ensure that the next Parliament reflects the people’s will without any interference,” said Kharabsheh.
“But the commission and the commission alone carries the responsibility of transforming words into action,” he stressed.
As great as the commission’s potential, so too are the ramifications of its failure, experts say.
Any perceived failure to uncover or prevent voting irregularities that marred previous polls would further erode citizens’ trust in the electoral process, a blow observers say will set back the country’s political development “by several years”.
“We can’t afford any failures; they will reflect very badly on the reform process and decision makers,” said Shteiwi.
“And that is something all parties are committed to ensure never happens.”