Preliminary results in Jordan‘s parliamentary elections indicate a sweeping victory for the ruling monarchy in a poll shunned by the Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing.
“The biggest winner in the Jordanian legislative elections was the state. It bargained on the public and the international community ignoring the absence of the Islamists in the elections,” he said.
According to Al-Jazeera, King Abdullah II, whose throne is not seriously thought to be under threat, had touted Wednesday’s election as a focal point for his reforms, which he said should pave the way for parliamentary government.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) put the final turnout at 56.6 percent of the registered electorate of 2.3mn, but the Brotherhood disputed this figure, saying there had been widespread fraud and vote-buying.
“Analysts had expected a strong showing by traditional fixtures of a political system that is dominated by the king and the royal court,” Suuha Philip Ma’ayeh reports for the Wall Street Journal:
Those representatives tend to gather support from family or corporate loyalty, rather than political positions. “The elections did not bring about politicians. We have a parliament without any platforms,” said Oraib Rintawi, director of Al Quds Centre.
The regime could face a challenge to ensure the legitimacy of a parliament against the lack of consensus on the election law, some analysts said.
Two democracy assistance groups that observed the poll said that local affinities were hindering prospects for developing truly national politicians, challenging King Abdullah II’s plans for parliamentary government, AFP reports:
“The unequal size of districts and an electoral system that amplifies family, tribal and national cleavages limit the development of a truly national legislative body and challenge the king’s stated aim of encouraging ‘full parliamentary government’,” said the National Democratic Institute:
In particular, the “elections are a series of profoundly local contests where candidates are elected as service providers and representatives of parochial interests, rather than national legislators able to hold the executive branch to account or propose laws,” NDI said.
The king will need to work to “unite individuals and groups in pursuit of national policies and agendas and encourage the formation of like-minded coalitions,” if he is to involve parliament in naming a prime minister.
The International Republican Institute called Wednesday’s election “an important step toward building voters’ trust in election administration.”
But it noted that “the electoral framework continues to fall short,” saying “tribal allegiances continue to be the major factor in candidate selection and campaigning, with personality trumping platforms.”
The poll was a “dividing line,” said Jordan expert Sean Yom, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.
“If various opposition forces do not see the elections as credible, and the monarchy still insists on forming a parliament and a government after the elections, that’s when I think you will see a real sign of instability and a movement towards political disorder in Jordan,” he told the BBC.
Nabil al-Sharif, a political columnist for the Jordan Times and a former minister of media affairs, saw the elections as “a big step forward”.
“It doesn’t mean that we have reached the epitome of what we want, but we are headed in the right direction and we are achieving results,” Sharif told Al Jazeera. “Even the king said recently that the monarchy that his son will inherit will not be the same monarchy that the king has now.”
“The fact that the results of the Arab Spring did not bring out rosy results in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, has helped people in Jordan to say that maybe it’s better to maintain what we have and not rock the boat too much, because the alternative is not very exciting,” Sharif said. “Even the major political parties in Jordan, all of them have been calling for reform inside the regime – even the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The possibility of radical or violent change acted as a moderating force, say observers.
“We are worried. We can help Jordan not go the same way as Syria and Egypt,” lawyer Khalid Hammad told The New York Times:
In all, 1,425 candidates were running for 150 seats, up from 120, in the lower house — an election law modification that was intended to quiet complaints about a system that rewarded local power brokers. They were often members of powerful tribes rather than national parties. But the Brotherhood and other opposition groups complained that the new law did not go far enough.
“The government passed the test of voter turnout and managed to convince people the elections were free and fair. But it will face a difficult task in trying to persuade people that the next parliament is legitimate,” contended Basil Akour, owner and editor in chief of Jo24, a Jordanian website. “Parliament has the same faces, most of whom are loyal to the regime.”
The voting process deteriorated towards the close of polling, which may have affected the final results in some districts, said the Integrity Coalition for Election Observation, a consortium of 50 nongovernmental groups.
While the electoral process was generally “well managed from a procedural perspective,” the group said, “serious problems remain with the legal framework and aspects of its implementation.”
“Whilst observers were overall able to follow the polling process, the coalition regrets that the majority of polling official refused to give information on voter participation figures, raising further concerns,” it said in a statement.
The key issues in the election were fighting corruption and favoritism, said opposition lawyer Muhammed al-Bourini, but he opposed the Islamists’ election boycott and charged the IAF with hypocrisy:
“They are trying to prevent people from participating in the election,” he said, in order to weaken the legitimacy of the government. “They want to show to the whole world that the system [in Jordan] is illegitimate.”
“They pretend to reject the electoral law despite the fact that they contested elections [in 2007] … under a worse law than the one today”.
The establishment was also able to mobilize the traditionally pro-monarchy tribes in order to boost electoral turnout.
“If it had not been for tribal affiliations, no one would have come,” said Ahmad Salman. “The absence of the biggest and most effective party has cost the election a lot of legitimacy.”
The tribal establishment is keen to maintain its access to power and patronage, Reuters reports, drawing resentment from the urban poor and the middle classes of Palestinian origin, frozen out of the top army, security and government jobs.
It has stymied free market reforms designed to cut back welfare and a bureaucracy dominated by native Jordanians, who form the backbone of support for the monarch.
A U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks said Jordan’s “bloated civil service and military patronage system” soaked up 83 percent of Jordan’s 2010 budget.
“Although the changes in the election system were touted by the Jordanian government as major progress toward democratic reform, some factions within the country feel the new law is not a step forward,” said the Project for Middle East Democracy:
Critics argue that the small number of seats filled through the party list does not allow for organized parties to gain significant power and instead creates disincentives for party organization. In a pre-election assessment, the National Democratic Institute also expressed concern that the heavily gerrymandered districts gave disproportionately high weight to rural districts, placing urban and Palestinian-origin populations at a disadvantage.
The Islamic Action Front said the vote justified its decision to boycott the poll.
“They are a sham, from the election law to voter turnout and results,” said Murad Adayleh, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.”We will continue with our protests until our demands are heard.”
But some analysts believe the Brotherhood made a strategic miscalculation.
“By calling for a boycott without being able to make it the main story of the elections, the Islamists overreached and failed,” writes Kuttab (right), the director general of the Community Media Network NGO that runs the ammannet.net news web site, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.
Nevertheless, “having won the current round with the Islamists should not give the other political actors an exaggerated sense of power and strength,” he cautions:
The most important goal in the coming months or years will be to heal the divide that exists in the country, even if that may have been overlooked in the existing Elections Law…..Similarly, the Islamists must recognize that they have overreached with their demands and show willingness to reach compromises that will allow for the nation to heal the political wounds of the last two years. Those looking for signs of national unity will be looking at what the 17th Parliament in Jordan will do about the Elections Law and any constitutional changes that might be necessary to produce the desired results.
To some Jordanians, Abdullah’s reluctance to cede key powers poses the greatest obstacle to efforts to bring about the kind of democratic changes that have swept the region,” writes The Washington Post’s Taylor Luck:
“How can we ever change the status quo when we are constantly electing a parliament that has no power, no authority and no legitimacy?” said Ahmed Majali, a resident of the city of Karak who serves as a campaign adviser to his cousin.
The elections even drew criticism from Bedouins, a longtime pillar of the regime traditionally viewed as resistant to change, with many voicing disenchantment with a political system that encourages citizens to vote along regional rather than ideological lines.
“All Jordanians want real, experienced parliamentarians who can tackle corruption and stand up to executive authority and actually craft laws,” said Mamdouh al-Jazi, a candidate from the influential Hweitat Bedouin tribe. “But decision-makers are preventing us from moving forward.”
Some observers have suggested that Jordan’s could be the first monarchy to fall to the popular unrest of the Arab Spring.
But the region’s monarchies have fared better than their republican counterparts in withstanding democratic demands, says analyst Mokhtar Benabdallaoui. They have done so in large part through a blend of institutional flexibility and political dexterity that enables monarchs to enjoy power without responsibility while deflecting pressure onto intermediate institutions that have responsibility without power.
“Despite a promise of rapid reform in early 2011 and subsequent tinkering of the legislative system, the King [Abdullah] has nonetheless resisted meaningful change that would loosen his absolute hold on power,” according to a recent report from the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The Project for Middle East Democracy is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. The National Democratic Institute is one of the NED’s core institutes.