Electoral Reform in Jordan

In the week before the Eid al-Adha holiday, King Abdullah dissolved parliament just two years into its term. According to the constitution, elections must now be held within four months or the previous parliament will be reinstated. However, the King had now requested that the election law be changed prior to an election, which, without a sitting parliament, means that the Council of Ministers is charged with formulating and approving the new law.

Jordan has undergone a similar process before. In 1993, King Hussein dissolved parliament and requested a new election law. It was widely believed that this was to limit the success of Islamists who had won 40% of the seats in the 1989 election. The reform changed the electoral system from one of bloc voting—where citizens living in multi-member districts are allowed to cast as many votes as there are seats—to a single non-transferable voting (SNTV) system whereby individuals cast a single ballot regardless of district magnitude. The palace and others believed was that ordinary citizens had cast their first vote for a member of their tribe and some their remaining votes to Islamist candidates leading to this outcome.

Redistricting was also done prior to the 2003 election. Currently, the allocation of seats strongly underrepresents populated areas in the north where most Jordanians of Palestinian origin live compared to more rural areas in the south. Moreover, district magnitude varies hugely. For example, in Irbid, a large city in the north, district magnitude is nine, thus requiring only 11.1% of the vote for a candidate to guarantee election. By comparison, many districts have a magnitude of one. The larger district magnitude in the SNTV system promotes candidates who appeal only to a narrow segment of the local population. These disparities should be altered to provide all Jordanians with an equal voice.

Partly as a result of these electoral institutions, Jordan has weak political parties and according to public opinion polls less than 2% of the population state that they support a party. Voting for a candidate with whom one has personal connections is often the norm with the hope of receiving benefits (“wasta”) from his or her election. The palace has long claimed it wants a system of strong parties, yet to date its actions have belied this claim.

Overall, the Jordanian system could be greatly improved. Given that the palace claims it wants to strengthen political parties, a proportional system would likely be a move in this direction. Even without this step, the new law could promote a bloc voting system once again which promotes cooperation between lists of candidates and could give a boost to parties. However, given that prior reforms conducted without parliamentary input have resulted a system that has marginalized political parties and privileged some citizens over others, it seems likely that any electoral reform will only serve to further guarantee these outcomes.

Link: http://www.jordantimes.com/?news=21886

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