Jordan’s registration results at the Independent Elections Commission show that 61 parties and lists featuring 824 candidates (among them only 88 women) will be competing for 27 national seats of the 150-seat expanded 17th Parliament, while 698 candidates (among them 196 women) will compete for the remaining 123 local seats.
While it will take years to reach the ideal of three major parties, the closed lists introduced a system whereby politicians (and tribal leaders) should have been able to create alliances and coalitions to win nationwide seats. The system, however, needs major corrective steps (as well as time) if a fiasco is to be avoided.
With a country that has not known nationwide elections, lacks a tradition of political parties (with the exception of the Islamists) and has no public opinion polling, everyone decided to take a chance at winning what appears to be coveted nationwide seats.
Opening up registration for registered political parties as well as last-minute created lists is obviously a mistake for a country wishing to introduce a culture of political parties. Already many were complaining about the large number of existing political parties, which exceeded 30, many totally incapable of acquiring a unique and attractive political character or even organizing a proper membership drive.
Political activists aware of the absence of polling or other mechanisms for a primary style pre-election process suggested that the nominated lists be open to the voters. Instead of the wrangling and various unscrupulous deals for rankings on a list, proponents of this idea would have had the voters choose from the entire list rather than be forced to vote for one out of the 61 lists that will be running for the nationwide seats.
The gender issue has also turned out to be a problem. Except for two lists that are headed by women, most of the others failed to place a woman in a high position. Some countries’ electoral regulations forced parties to place women as second (Tunisia) or third candidates (Palestine). Many felt that this could replace the current quota system for women. As it stands now, most women hope to reach parliament through the 15 guaranteed local seats rather than through competition on nationwide lists.
Because there is no credible mechanism to gauge how a certain candidate would do on a national list, a dysfunctional system was adopted. This ad hoc system, in most cases, decided the rank of candidates through wheeling and dealing. Some candidates were offered high rankings in return for large sums of money “contributed” to the campaign coffers.
While it is logical to have a party’s secretary general or a list leader as the number one candidate, many are wondering why party secretaries, who are usually effective administrators and seldom charismatic leaders, are in the number two slot.
With the exception of traditional political parties in Jordan (pan-Arabists, Baathists and leftists) very few of the emerging 61 lists reflect a new political ideology. There do not appear to be any unique political, social or economic programs on offer to the electorate.
The one positive exception is the fact that many lists are placing Jordanians of Palestinian origin in high and safe positions. Whereas the large number of citizens living in urban areas and refugee camps are underrepresented in the local seat distribution, list leaders see in Jordanians of Palestinian origin as a large reservoir of votes that can help them secure more candidates.
The large number of candidates and nominees, and the over two million registered voters will most certainly weaken claims by opposition groups that there is a serious opposition movement that will be boycotting the upcoming elections.
The election season is upon us now, and as in previous years, for a month, the public will see, on every street corner, faces of candidates and slogans. The fact that this year political parties and lists will be competing for a second vote from citizens has yet to be translated into a process that will educate the electorate on how to make a wise and effective choice at the polls on January 23.
Whatever the outcome of the elections, the hope of many is that the new parliament will find the courage to reform the Elections Law, learning from the current process, in a way that can lead to a more effective and representative electoral process.
The writer is a Palestinian journalist, former professor at Princeton. The article was first published in The Jordan Times on Dec. 20, 2012. Twitter: @daoudkuttab