Jordanian election a step towards new power-sharing system
Amman - Jordanians consider parliamentary elections, scheduled for September 20th, a step towards long-awaited reforms that will usher in a new system of power sharing, giving citizens a greater say in the decision-making process.
The goal is to strengthen political parties so they produce national agendas, field parliamentary candidates and contest elections that will ultimately see prime ministers elected from a parliamentary majority, reversing the current situation of the prime minister being appointed by the king.
For the first time, the upcoming vote will see politicians with similar outlooks grouping to entice voters from a largely conservative and in some areas tribal constituency that has grown accustomed to casting its ballot for a family connection.
For years, there have been attempts to unite Jordan’s 33 highly splintered political parties. The parties have diverse and often archaic ideologies, ranging from Muslim fundamentalist to Communist. The drive to forge a handful of mainstream political parties that could offer constituents clear national agendas and serve as a shadow to serving governments continues.
“Communism, Arab nationalism and other ideologies died out long ago in the former Soviet Union and Arab countries,” said political analyst Labib Kamhawi.
“Fundamentalism is out of the question and we have seen how quickly the regime of the first Muslim Brotherhood president collapsed in Egypt,” Kamhawi said. “People in the region have grown disgruntled with religious parties and militant groups seeking political gains in the name of Islam.”
Jordan’s freewheeling political party scene is blamed on the long absence of a multiparty system. Political parties were banned following a 1956 leftist coup attempt but were revived in 1991 under a reform programme launched by King Abdullah’s late father, King Hussein.
During the ban, the fundamentalist Brotherhood was the only organised group, acting as a charity organisation although its duties extended much beyond that. Several Brotherhood members commanded top government posts, including in the cabinet.
Brotherhood ministers had promised to concentrate on education and services, such as health care, hospitals and charities as well as the banking and financial sectors. Instead, the Brotherhood called for the veiling of women, bans on lewd television programmes and prohibiting the national air carrier from serving alcohol aboard flights to Arab destinations. As a result, the group dramatically lost popularity soon when it failed to deliver on promises to improve pocketbook issues that worried Jordanians.
Still, with the experience it gained over the years, the Brotherhood acted almost as a shadow government in the 1990s, offering services and charity to needy Jordanians in areas out of the government’s reach, said Mousa Ishteiwi, director of the Strategic Study Centre at the University of Jordan.
“The Brotherhood ran schools, Quran-teaching centres, hospitals, a bank and charity organisations that offered food and cash to low-income Jordanians,” Ishteiwi said.
The elections present a test for Jordan, whose pro-US ruler has been seeking to strike a balance between domestic needs and regional interests.
Domestically, King Abdullah II said he envisaged Jordan ten years from now as a constitutional monarchy in which an elected parliament, known as the Chamber of Deputies, runs the daily affairs of the state.
Regionally, however, Abdullah must be careful not to press too much with democracy and change from the current monarchy so as not to upset regional heavyweight and his political bankroller, Saudi Arabia.
The petroleum-rich country spends billions each year to keep Jordan’s moribund economy afloat.
Alhadath Editor-in-Chief Nasser Qamash said candidates are complaining of the lack of people’s interest and that they are facing a hard time in complying with the law to contest elections within lists.
In August 2015, the government unveiled the new electoral law, removing a longstanding one-person, one-vote electoral system.
The new legislation is based on the at-large voting system in which candidates can run for parliamentary elections on one large multi-member ticket.
The proportional electoral system allows winning lists to have seats according to what they attained of the total percentage of votes cast. Won seats are to be distributed among the ticket members depending on the number of votes each candidate collected.
Imad Hmoud, an economic expert, said the election law “closed the door in front of certain Islamists who are facing limits on their activities” — a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Due to many obstacles, Qamash said he believed that Islamists will not win many seats and they already realised it, yet “will participate to prove they still exist”.
Jordan’s parliament consists of the 75-member House of Senate appointed by the king and the 150-person House of Representatives, which is elected through proportional representation in 23 constituencies on nationwide party lists for a four-year election cycle.
Women have the minimum quotas of 15 seats, although in 2013 they won 19 seats. Christians have nine, Circassians three and Chechens have one seat. Bedouins of the northern, central and southern Badias have three.
Mohammed Ghanam, 56, who is running for the second constituency, said he is “eager to be part of Jordan’s future”.
“The elections will not be easy,” he said, “but they will open a new chapter in the history of the kingdom.”