Continuing our series of election reports in conjunction with Electoral Studies, the following post-election report on the Jordanian parliamentary elections is provided by André Bank, a research fellow, and Anna Sunik, a junior research fellow, at GIGA, the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, in Hamburg. They work in the Fritz-Thyssen-Foundation funded research project on “Middle East Monarchies: A Configurational Comparison of Survival and Breakdown since 1945” and can be contacted under firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
On 23 January 2013, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan held its first parliamentary elections in the context of the “Arab Spring”. Like previous parliaments, the 17th elected Lower House (the Upper House, or Senate, is royally appointed) will consist of an absolute majority of conservative and tribal candidates, providing the “reigning and ruling” King Abdallah II with a solid support base in both chambers. More than 75 % of the 150 parliamentarians can be considered loyalists, while about one fourth (ca. 37 deputies according to some reports) have a more independent and oppositionist outlook. The latter group is, however, very diverse, ranging from individual leftist and liberal secularists to independent Islamists, three of which represent the al-Wasat party, the biggest party in the future legislature. The future Lower House will also have 17 female deputies, two more than the women’s quota of 15 provides.
Arguably the biggest success for King Abdallah and his slow political reform process “from above” was the electoral turnout of 56.6 % of the registered voters (who formed about 70 % of the eligible electorate), even though this number means that – given Jordan’s very young population – only about one fifth of the general population went to the polls. International election observers have so far not found larger indications of electoral fraud or vote-buying, even though the Jordanian opposition which boycotted the polls argues to the contrary.
The parliamentary elections in Jordan were held under a revised electoral law (from spring 2012), which allowed for a new national list (27 of the 150 seats) as well as the introduction of an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) overseeing the process. These modest, cosmetic changes, however, have not changed the built-in, structural over-representation of individual tribal candidates vis-à-vis candidates running on a party platform. Political parties thus continue to be largely irrelevant in Jordan. The new electoral law has also not substantially changed the gerrymandering of electoral districts, due to which the traditionally more government-critical cities of Amman and Zarqa – which also have the highest concentration of Palestinians, about 60% of the Jordanian population – are discriminated against the rural, Transjordanian areas which represent the traditional backbone of the Hashemite monarchy.
Against the background of the electoral law and the overall rather slow political reform process in Jordan under King Abdallah in the last two years of the “Arab Spring,” the country’s largest and most influential opposition party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted the elections. They did so along with the majority of the parties of the newly founded National Front for Reform as well as a number of youth and protest movements.
So what do the elections mean for Jordan? King Abdallah has achieved his goal of a high, even “unprecedented” turnout. Due to the presence and thus far generally favorable reports of the independent electoral observers who were allowed to come to Jordan for the first time, he has also bolstered his legitimacy abroad. Some cases of vote-buying were more heavily and visibly prosecuted than in previous elections, however, this also worked well as a distraction from the fact that election-rigging during the elections was not really necessary since the existing electoral law guaranteed that little political change would take place on election day itself, especially none that could have threatened an absolute majority of loyalist, pro-monarchy candidates. Although a breakthrough in the political reform process is therefore even more out of reach than it used to be, the continuity of the Jordanian monarchy under King Abdallah is reaffirmed – at least in the short term.