Will Jordan’s elections turn out to be just another Groundhog Day?

Sunday 18/09/2016

Jordanians are preparing for parliamentary elections with a mixed sense of expectations.

On the face of it, many aspects of an election involving 230 lists competing for the 130-seat lower house appear to be positive. The new bloc voting system, which replaced the one-person, one-vote method that had been used since 1993, is touted as fairer and more diverse.

Authorities have vowed that this election would not be marred by fraudulent incidents, as was the case in some previous polls.

Female candidates are more optimistic about their chances in securing parliamentary seats beyond the quota system. Women make up about 52% of the more than 4 million people registered to vote. Out of 1,293 candidates, 257 are women.

A new youth movement called Shaghaf was set up to address concerns of young voters.

Social, as well as traditional, media are abuzz with election campaigns and discussions. The streets are filled with pictures of candidates.

There are, however, many peo­ple who are not optimistic that the elections will produce anything other than more of the same, if not more trouble.

This is mainly focused on three factors: The view that the political system will still be held hostage to tribal alliances, corruption and lack of accountability; the fact that, regardless of the elec­tion outcome, key decisions will be determined by the monarchy; and the power struggle between the government and the Islamists could blow out of control.

The Islamists, predominately represented by the Muslim Broth­erhood’s political arm, Islamic Action Front (IAF), have decided to take part in full force, reversing a decision to boycott the elections.

The IAF, campaigning to attract voters beyond its traditional Islam­ist base, is hoping to secure 20% of the overall seats. It formed the non-partisan National Alliance for Reform (NAR), whose lists include Arab Christians, Circassians, na­tionalists and other non-Islamists.

The government, which has offi­cially banned the Muslim Brother­hood and shut down many of the group’s offices, has not disallowed the participation of its members via NAR.

By allowing NAR to take part, the government is hoping to give the elections legitimacy as it has succeeded in avoiding mass boycotts of the polls, which could lead to instability in the streets. It wants Brotherhood members to be part of the opposition but not be strong enough to dominate it or come to power.

The government’s decision to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and recognise its splinter group, the Muslim Brotherhood Society (MBS), was likely taken to pres­sure the Islamists to return to the political process instead of casting doubt on it.

It also helps the government to have a diluted Islamist voice, now divided into four parties: the Brotherhood’s IAF/NAR, MBS, the Zamzam Initiative and al-Wasat but the gamble could backfire if the Muslim Brotherhood wins more seats than the government envisages.

The stakes are high for the Brotherhood, too. A sweeping victory would put it on a collision course with the government, this time with a sharper axe to grind.

The Muslim Brotherhood would face a new task post-elections: dealing with non-Islamists part­ners. Forming alliances ahead of polls is not the same as working with them after the vote, where the differences would be tested over a longer period of time.

It also remains to be seen how genuine the Muslim Brotherhood’s reform bid is. If it goes too far, it may stray from its original base.

Yet the government-Muslim Brotherhood power struggle is not a concern to many Jordanians who have given up in seeing any real change come to their political system.

To them, the election is a part of just another Groundhog Day.