“The people have spoken, the voters have decided and I bow to the will of citizens and accept the election result.”
This sentence or a variation of it is often spoken to the press by candidates who lose elections, often after having made a congratulatory phone call to the winning candidates.
For the most part, however, accepting results and taking responsibility for what happened on election day did not happen after the elections for the 17th Parliament in Jordan. Most losing candidates spent their time making accusations or complaining of voting irregularities. Many encouraged their supporters to take to the streets and riot, often causing damage to public and private property, while the Independent Elections Commission had stated clearly that those losing have a chance to go to court to contest the results.
There is a general consensus among Jordanian, Arab and international observers that the January 23 elections were considerably fairer and more transparent than any of the previous polls. The elections commission head and spokesman admitted there were some mistakes and it was unfortunate that the results were changed a number of times.
Accepting to lose is not easy. We see that often with soccer teams and we saw it when people lost their investments on the stock market.
No one should have been surprised by the losses in the elections for Jordan’s 150-member Parliament. Over 800 candidates representing 61 lists had decided to compete for a mere 27 nationwide seats. Less than 700 were running for the remaining 123 seats. And while a number of candidates withdrew at the last moment, convinced that they were unlikely to win local seats, none of the 61 lists competing for the very few national seats took the opportunity given to them by the election commission to withdraw before election day.
And it was not only the candidates who failed to accept the results. Opposition leaders filled the airwaves with “evidence” in support of their decision to boycott the elections even though 1.2 million Jordanians had exercised their right to vote.
Leaders of the Islamic Action Front did not even recognize what observers had noted about the elections: that they were relatively free and fair.
Even the government spokesmen were not totally honest in their attempts to claim that participation in the elections of the 17th Parliament was higher than in the previous. Government defenders compared the 56 per cent figure of voter participation to the 52 per cent of those participating in the previous elections. What they failed to note was that the turnout rate for the current election is figured by dividing the 1.2 million into the 2.2 million registered voters, while the last election figure did not take into account the registered voters but the number of those qualified to vote. Had this last equation been used for the current elections, the turnout would have been less than 40 per cent.
Accepting defeat and recognizing the results of a public poll is a cultural problem that cannot be solved overnight. Ironically, those who are seeking a leadership position, who should be role models for the rest of the population, are unfortunately themselves the leaders of the campaign to delegitimize elections.
Absent also are independent cultural figures who should be chiming in with their position in regards to any national event. There has been no public statement from well-respected icons in the country that would shame those who are blabbering about the elections largely because they lost.
The elections exposed a number of weaknesses in the country that must be remedied over a long period.
The absence of a political party culture is perhaps the most glaring problem that was, exposed by these elections, which saw tens of lists created at the last moment win enough votes to send a member to the parliament.
Having so many parties and lists win a seat is simply postponing a solution to the problem, rather than resolving it.
King Abdullah has often spoken of the need for a political culture in which three major political blocs are created in the country. The current Elections Law has failed to produce such blocs and may have perpetuated the tribal system that progressive forces in the country, including the King, have been trying to amend.
But what the elections have shown is that even if changes are made to the electoral process, a much more important change is required, namely of the culture of the citizenry: to believe in the system, accept its results and have the courage and sportsmanship to admit defeat.
This article was first published in the Jordan Times on Jan. 30, 2013.
Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame street. You can read his blogs on DaoudKuttab.com and find him on Twitter @DaoudKuttab.