Jordanian vote highlights tribal factor, political parties' weaknesses

The Islamist party, which ran with the National Reform Coalition, secured only 13 seats in parliament, out of the 130 seats of Jordan’s House of Representatives.

Thursday 12/11/2020
Children collect candidates' posters after parliament elections results were announced in Amman, Jordan, November 12, 2020. (REUTERS)
Children collect candidates' posters after parliament elections results were announced in Amman, Jordan, November 12, 2020. (REUTERS)

AMMAN – Preliminary results of Jordan’s parliamentary elections have begun to be released, revealing early indications of the features that will define the country’s next legislative branch.

Jordan’s next parliament, elected last Tuesday in special circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will quickly face a series of obstacles, particularly over how to revamp the country’s struggling economy.

Over 1,600 candidates in 294 lists competed for 130 seats in Jordan’s House of Representatives.

Initial results showed that the civil current represented by the Ma’an (Together) List performed poorly at the polls, a devastating blow for the movement that sought to shake up the political scene.

Observers say the list’s failure was expected after the disintegration of the political body that embraces it, the Civil Alliance Party.

A few weeks before the elections, the coalition was rattled by a major shakeup that saw senior members and founding figures resign, including former minister and ambassador Marwan Muasher.

Muasher said he had decided to step down because of “the existence of change forces within the party that are incompatible, inconsistent, and do not act transparently or with a cooperative civil democratic culture.”

Some believe that the Together List’s failure to gain seats in parliament is a harsh lesson for Jordan’s civil forces, which will have to reassess their ability to defend their presence on the political scene.

The Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, fared only slightly better, securing only a few seats in parliament. According to unofficial results, the Islamist party, which ran with the National Reform Coalition, secured 13 seats in parliament, down from 16 seats previously.

The Islamic Action Front party’s share was expected to decline due to its representatives’ poor performance in recent years, as well as the decline of popular support over disillusionment and divisions within its mother organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, in recent years.

The party, the most powerful in Jordan, anticipated it would perform poorly in the elections and rushed to blame the expected results on violations and abuses it said it would later reveal and on low voter turnout.

Officials said turnout among Jordan’s 4.64 million eligible voters was 29.88%, the lowest rate in many years. The poll coincided with deep public discontent over the country’s deep economic crisis that has seen a rise in unemployment and poverty aggravated by a surge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Fear of coronavirus has impacted the level of participation,” Khaled Kalaldeh, chief commissioner of the state-run Independent Election Commission (IEC), told reporters.

Health restrictions for voters and poll supervisors included mandatory face masks and gloves and social distancing guidelines.

The election commission also provided sterilisation devices in all centres, pens for all voters and an electronic voter card reader to minimise contact.

As of Wednesday, Jordan had tracked a total of 126,401 coronavirus cases and 1,467 deaths.

Low voter turnout may have benefited Jordan’s tribal forces, which have long held the upper hand in parliament. They are able to maintain disproportionate influence because of how the electoral law is structured. Observers say that many Jordanian voters chose their representatives based on tribal bonds.

Ahmed Al-Ajarmah, general coordinator of the non-governmental Election Monitoring Project, expressed disappointment with partisan candidates.

“The phenomenon of tribalism continues to soar and dominate the electoral scene, so that the gains of some political parties were only obtained with the help of tribal backgrounds,” Ajarmah said.

Forty-seven out of Jordan’s 48 parties participated in the election, with the Islamic Action Front running the most candidates with 41.

In a preliminary reading of the conduct of the elections and their results, the Monitor, a non-governmental centre concerned with the parliamentary process, declared that about 78% of those who won election were “new faces,” — 100 deputies out of 130.

The head of the centre, Amer Bani Amer, said during a news conference in the capital, Amman, that “16 percent of the new deputies belong to political parties,” without specifying the parties that came out on top or the number of seats they won.

The Centre bases its analysis on the results announced by the Elections Commission that began to come out on Wednesday.

Bani Amer indicated that 1,270 observations of irregularities were recorded during the elections, some of which were serious violations.

Elections Commission spokesman Jihad al-Momani did not deny that some irregularities had taken place and emphasised that “all observations were dealt with as soon as they were received, while legal violations were transferred to the public prosecution.”

Neither Bani Amer nor Momani gave further details about the alleged legal violations.

The parliamentary results must be checked, approved and sent to the nation’s official bodies before they are finalised, at which point the new parliament will begin its four year term.

Parliamentary elections in Jordan follow a 2016 lists’ law that allows voters to cast their ballots for a specific list rather than a single candidate. Previously, elections followed a one-man-one-vote electoral law that had been in effect since 1993. The previous law did not allow the formation of electoral blocs, paving the way for candidates to win based on regional and tribal considerations.

Parliament includes two chambers: the Senate, appointed by the king and comprising 65 seats, and the House of Representatives, whose 130 seats are elected.