Tribal politicians, more women elected but apathy reigns in Jordan’s elections

Sunday 25/09/2016
Jordanian officials counting ballots

AMMAN - Islamists staged a comeback in elections for Jordan’s 130-seat parliament, making inroads into the large majority of con­servative tribal politicians in the polls, touted as a step towards further democracy in the Arab king­dom.
Preliminary results indicated that the outcome of the September 20th election was heavily depend­ent on tribal affiliation, producing a Chamber of Deputies — the lower house of parliament — with nearly 90 seats commanded by a mix of old and new conservative politi­cians elected due to tribal votes and family connections.
The results, announced by the Independent Electoral Commis­sion, also showed that Islamists, affiliated with the Muslim Brother­hood until its fracture in 2015, won 16 seats.
There were five women who won outside a state-designated quota of 15 seats, bringing the total number of women lawmakers to 20, 15% of the new legislature. Nine Chris­tians won seats reserved for their minority community, alongside three each for the Circassian and Chechen minorities.
Preliminary results for Jordan’s 18th parliament were based on counted votes from almost all of the country’s 23 electoral districts. Election officials said they doubt­ed the final vote totals would dra­matically alter the current shape of the incoming parliament.
“The outcome of the elections is not a surprise,” observed polls ex­pert Walid Hosni. “With the new electoral law and the new system of lists, rather than political parties competing on a party banner or a clear political platform, it was ex­pected that we would have a heavy tribal vote.”
The government held the elec­tions based on a new electoral law, which saw votes going to lists of in­dependent candidates joining each other under one ticket. A handful of the country’s fractured 50 politi­cal parties also fielded candidates, as the Islamists did, but on the same tickets as independents, not on a party banner.
As part of reforms launched in 2010, Jordan’s government is seek­ing to consolidate a multiparty sys­tem revived in the early 1990s. The system had been banned following a leftist coup attempt in 1956.
However, in the past 25 years the number of political parties in­creased to include 50 small groups, most with outdated ideologies, such as communism and Nasserite and other nationalist movements.
Jordan has said it would like the splintered groups to unite into two or three mainstream parties es­pousing clear national agendas and to compete in parliamentary elec­tions based on a party platform.
The polls were touted as a meas­ured step towards greater democ­racy in which parliament would gradually assume more pow­ers from the absolute monarchy, which would within a few years take a back seat as parliament be­comes increasingly involved with the daily affairs of the state.
The new parliament is expected to vote for a prime minister from either inside or outside of the legis­lative body. The king must endorse parliament’s decision.
Previously, it was the prerogative of Jordanian kings to appoint prime ministers.
Once picked, the prime minister would select a cabinet, which must be endorsed by both the king and parliament.
The steps are part of a carefully designed trajectory, which Jordan hopes will lead the public to be­come more involved in national decision-making — a request made during street protests at the height of “Arab spring” uprisings.
The Islamists’ comeback to Jor­dan’s politics was perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of the polls. A broad-based govern­ment with representative opposi­tion should help Jordan sell any future cuts in subsidies.
It could also reinstate popular trust in parliament, which has eroded over the years. Jordanians have been largely critical of their parliament, describing it as “doc­ile” or a rubber stamp to the state, unable to monitor the cabinet or question corrupt officials.
Apathy was cited the main rea­son for the relatively low turnout of 1.5 million out of the 4.1 million eligible electorate.
The Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, is Jordan’s largest and most organised opposition.
The group boycotted elections in the last decade to protest alleged procedural fraud in previous elec­tions as well as a state-drafted elec­toral law that it says favoured the king’s loyalists. Jordan has changed the electoral law at least five times.
“We’re back in business and we’re satisfied with the number of seats we won,” Muslim Brother­hood Association leader Hamza Mansour said to cheers and loud clapping by party supporters.
Before the elections, other Mus­lim Brotherhood Association lead­ers said they expected the group to win as many as 30 seats.
The Brotherhood has been di­vided into two groups since a gov­ernment crackdown in 2015. One is hawkish and is banned by the state, while the other is more moderate and has acquired necessary licens­ing to replace the old movement. The new group is called the Muslim Brotherhood Association.