After months of discussions and debates, the parliamentary election season is finally upon us, and it exposes numerous flaws and weaknesses.
Jordanians spent the better part of 2012 arguing about the best elections law for the country. In the aftermath of the Jordanian Arab Spring, many wanted an elections law that can usher in a new, more robust, representative parliamentary government. From the look of things, the 17th Parliament of Jordan will most likely resemble the 16th or the ones before it.
A study conducted by Radio Al Balad’s parliamentary reporter Hamzeh Sou’d and investigative journalist Musab Rawashdeh showed that 139 candidates to the 17th Lower House served in earlier parliaments. Of the repeat MPs, 68 served in the 16th Parliament.
Among those former MPs from the 16th sessions 55 will be running on local lists while 13 are competing on nationwide lists. From the 15th Parliament 42 MPs are competing this time and 17 MPs from the 14th Parliament are running in this year’s elections. Seven from the 13th Parliament also decided to run this time.
Among women candidates, 17 former MPs decided to participate in the upcoming elections.
The presence of so many repeat MPs is a worrying sign to many, because it takes away from the promise of reform or renewal. Many Jordanians, especially the young ones, were hoping to see change in the makeup of the 1st Parliament after two years of protests.
Jordanian protesters as well as the various groups that have called for a boycott of the elections have noted that the elections law will not bring any change to a system that strongly favours electing tribal chiefs rather than national political leaders.
Voters will be allowed this year to vote twice, once for a local candidate and once for a national list. The 17th Parliament will have 150 (30 more than the previous legislative body). Of the new parliamentarians, only 27 will be elected by way of lists. Sixty one lists, featuring over 800 candidates, have been nominated for these 27 seats, while less than 700 nominees (among them 129 women) are competing for the remaining 123 seats.
The large number of lists has exposed one of the many problems in the new electoral system. Although Jordan has a new political party law that requires parties to have offices in every district and provides them with symbolic government support, the new law does not restrict lists to political parties.
This means that individuals getting together at the last moment before the deadline can set up a list and potentially gain membership using the nationwide second ballot.
The idea that the second vote will strengthen parties rather than tribal leadership has been defeated by this loophole.
Instead of lists competing for votes based on their political platforms, once again the electorate is being wooed to elect individuals based on their name and tribe rather than their policies and experiences.
The large number of lists is also the product of a lazy legislature that failed to provide clear guidance to the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) as to the threshold for entering parliament on the nationwide lists. Without such a minimum threshold it is technically possible to have 27 candidates representing 27 lists in the coming elections, thus defeating the idea that a political party system will be created as part of the two-vote system. The King’s ideas expressed in various setting, that Jordan can have three parties (representing centrists, right and left-wing ideologies) cannot be accomplished with this law.
The electoral process is also hampered by lack of guidance regarding spending limits. The law sets no limits, nor does it limit what private media can do. The restriction on media advertising applies only to state-run media, which are obliged to be fair. Some candidates that own media outlets, especially TV stations, are using that to promote their candidates around the clock.
The audiovisual commission did not intervene; instead, it let it be known that this is acceptable. Some independent media outlets published their own code of ethics for the upcoming elections, but for the most part, it appears that it will be a free fall in the private media.
As the election season gets into high gear Jordanians are rather confused. On the one hand, opposition parties such as the Islamic Action Front and some independent hirak groups representing young people are calling for a boycott of the elections. On the other, street signs are full of images of nominees reflecting that the election season and elections will witness some robust discussions about the future of Jordan.
While there is plenty to discuss about the elections law and the electoral system, the IEC has so far received high grades from the public and political observers.
For the first time, international observers will be following the elections. An EU observer team is already on the ground, thus promising that the actual elections will most likely be free and fair.
As to the elections law and its flaws, it is hoped that the 17th Parliament will work to close some gaps and provide for a system that can truly usher in reform.