Jordanian election a step towards new power-sharing system

Sunday 14/08/2016
Jordanian electoral officials seal empty ballot boxes before voting commences at a poll station in Amman, in January 2013.

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.”