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Why Jordanians are reluctant to join parties

Jan 04,2020 - Last updated at Jan 04,2020

Some would say that the political environment is not yet ready. Despite the democratisation process that Jordan witnessed since 1989 and the anticipations that were held at the time to enrich political life with party activity capable of translating these aspirations into practical ones on the ground, the following years revealed a noticeable decline in performance, with which the ceiling of aspirations decreased significantly.

Jordanian political parties suffer from weak public turnout and the reluctance of citizens to be involved. One of the most important reasons for this is that the programmes of these parties do not address issues important to the citizens and do not affect the course of economic, social and political activities, in addition to the reliance of some parties on family and tribal influence. If not all of Jordan’s political parties, the majority of them lack funding and this affects their impact.

Media and public policy have contributed to weakening and reducing the role of parties. Such parties have not been seriously dealt with in a way that guarantees activating and developing their role in the Jordanian political arena in general and the parliamentary ring in particular, although the weakness of the parties is reflected in the feebleness of the institutions within which the parties operate. There is no doubt that Jordanian political parties are facing a decisive turning point. Aside from weak participation, and their achievement of discouraging results in the parliamentary elections, which indicates their decline and the deterioration of their presence in Jordanian society, there are other indications that show that this decline is almost comprehensive for various aspects of public life, and community institutions. 

Almost 30 years after this transformation, the parties did not go beyond the point from which they started, contenting themselves with a marginal role in political life, amidst strengthening the case of popular reluctance to join them after the party merger process has become a risk for some and lavishness for others. 

According to a report issued in 2018, the number of affiliates for 48 parties licensed reached 34,957 by the end of that year. That is, the members of the Jordanian parties are almost 35,000 out of 1.5 million people who have the right to vote. Youth’s reluctance to join parties is not only a Jordanian phenomenon, but is also the most prominent feature in the political arenas of most, if not all, Arab countries. 

In a quick reading of the partisan map in Jordan, it is noted that it is under three main umbrellas. The first is the conservative current (centre), the second is the right-wing, represented by the Islamic trend, and the third is the nationalist and leftist streams. These umbrellas are formed by five main party coalitions: The centre parties, leftist and nationalist parties, reformist parties, National Parties Coalition and renewal trend parties.

The government's policies to marginalise parties and the loss of legislative framework that allows a better representation of political parties in the Jordanian Parliament, along with the funding crises, are all reasons that have led to the failure of these political bodies to perform their aspired objectives and to helped the government bring about the necessary changes and improve the country’s performance.

Thus, the Jordanian state should help support and develop partisan work, leading to strong party coalitions that represent the entire spectrum of the Jordanian society through programmes that allow access to the parliament as His Majesty King Abdullah wanted in the various discussion papers. It is important that the government and decision makers should internalise the importance of parties to have clear practical programmes. 

King Abdullah has always called for the formation of no more than five powerful parties in the country to serve as major channels for political participation, lead to a parliament based on multi-partisan activities and contribute to the formation of programmatic parliamentary blocs, which would pave the way for Jordan to enter a stage of parliamentary governments. On every occasion, the King addresses the issue of political reform, but without success or response so far; neither by the parties, nor by the parliamentary blocs which were formed in successive parliaments and based on individual reflections and interpretations in the absence of effective participation and role of parties in the Parliament, or because of underrepresentation.

Parties are resilient and robust when their influence increases. This cannot be reached without having effectual channels of participation in the general elections, and through an electoral law that stimulates multi-partisanship. Partisanship would unleash political and social dynamics capable of achieving an effective party system within a few electoral constituencies.

To sum up, the keyword to invoke the political and party life in Jordan is a modern election law that adopts national-party lists to fill all or most of the seats in the Parliament, and the parties should be enabled to form balanced representative blocs. Political observers are getting more confused as they try to identify the term of political reform and its priority on the agenda of decision-making institutions in the Jordanian state. This cannot be achieved unless political and economic reform paths go hand in hand to help achieve a successful parliamentary life that shares part of the burden the government is carrying at present. 

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