Elections in Jordan: Back to square one



Hassan Barari

Published — Friday 1 February 2013

Last update 1 February 2013 1:08 am

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Amid boycott of key political forces and the existence of a lot of internal political differences, Jordanians elected a new Parliament. The new Parliament is far from being convincing. In fact, the structure of the current Parliament is similar to the previous one that was widely detested.
Unsurprisingly, the Parliament cannot create the checks and balance system that is vital for the stability of the country. The number of the members to the Parliament that can act independently of the state is modest. On the whole, the Parliament is expected to rubber-stamp whatever the executive authority and the different centers of power agree on.
If anything, the result of the elections vindicates one point: The controversial electoral law is the key reason for producing weak parliaments. Over the last two decades, the one-person-one-vote system has produced parliaments that never enjoyed more than 15 percent of people’s approval. A poll after another shows that the Parliament is the least respected institution. The last Parliament enjoyed the support of only 11 percent of the Jordanian people.
A few would disagree with the statement that the electoral law was designed to produce spineless and weak Parliament. The ruling elites in the country fear an inclusive electoral law could empower people. For this reason, they use Islamists as a bogeyman to scare the rest of people that a different electoral law would only lead to Islamists’ takeover. Is this correct? Hardly! The sad fact is that the regime is clinging onto an absolute power as much as possible without taking into account that enough is enough.
Unlike other countries, the Arab Spring in Jordan has offered the regime an opportunity to bring about a genuine change. Rather than calling for a regime change, Jordanians seek to fix the regime. However, the state has dealt with the Arab Spring as a threat rather than as an opportunity. Still, Jordanians are looking at the monarch as an umbrella for all Jordanians regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds. This fact should have been a motive for the regime to proceed with real change rather than the cosmetic steps that failed to convince the majority.
The policies on the ground barely match the rhetoric of the regime about reforms. In the last election only 40 percent of the eligible voters cast their votes!
Jordanians have low expectations of the current Parliament. Far from creating optimism, the Parliament is not expected to restore the check and balance system. During the last two years, the opposition was in the street and the Parliament failed to act in a way to take the initiative. Now the opposition remains in the street and this will make the Parliament look as if it is a tool in the hand of the executive authority. A close look at the makeup of the Parliament reveals a bleak picture. Many of those who won the elections were involved in vote buying and accused of corruption. The most seasoned and experienced ones have never made any difference.
With such a Parliament, it is difficult to imagine a change that can prolong the life of the Parliament.
That said, members of the Parliament are aware of the power of the street. Equally important, they are not oblivious to the fact that there will be no grace period for them. Their best chance lies in changing the electoral law into a more inclusive one in the first few months should they seek to improve their standing and weaken the call for their dismissal.
As it stands, the Parliament reflects neither the aspirations nor the interests of people. Soon, the government will increase the price of electricity with the approval of the Parliament. It would be a huge surprise if the Parliament can stop the next government from doing that. Therefore, the Parliament will lose its status and its relevance to an increasing numbers of disgruntled Jordanians. It is not as if we have not seen this movie before. Surely, the Parliament will let down the people on the key burning issues. Soon, Jordanians will take to the street to ask for dissolving the current Parliament.
To avert losing initiative, the new Parliament should put three key issues on front burner. First, dealing with corruption in a methodological and persistent way. Second, addressing the economic hardships that have hit hard the society. And finally, changing the electoral law into a more inclusive one. It remains to be seen whether this Parliament lives up to these expectations!

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