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Silver lining of the Jordanian elections

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Jordan’s parliamentary elections were far from perfect, but a process has commenced that places an important first building block in the reform process.

Munir Atalla
28 January 2013

Jordanian parliamentary elections, held two days ago, yielded predictable results.  The usual suspects, Jordanian tribal families, each took their handful of seats.  Although the Muslim Brotherhood boycotted the elections, there was a good turnout of 56%, up 3% from 2010 elections.  While the slow pace of change might make some foreign observers sigh and shake their heads, it is an important first step in rebuilding trust between the government and the citizenry that has been eroded by years of broken promises.  For the most part the parliament remains unchanged, but for the first time in a long time, elections have been declared free and fair by international monitors.  The King has stated that the new parliament will help him in the appointment of a Prime Minister, a first, and people are buying it.

Historically, allegations of vote buying and nepotism have gone ignored or unchecked.  People also live with the assumption that the secret police plays a hand in the turnouts.  While these allegations are not baseless, they are often over played. The secret police might shift around a few seats, but those elected are usually a fair  reflection of the people showing up at the polls.  Elections have carried on in this way for a while now.  The Muslim Brotherhood assumes that they will be marginalized by the elections and asks their supporters to boycott.  Candidates who would receive votes and challenge many of the ruling narratives within the parliament opt out of running rather than risk being slighted.  But this year, there are signs of a new electoral process being formed, and it is worth celebrating.  The parliament that has been elected is not what is exciting, what is exciting is the prospect of future elections being run in the same fashion, and therefore being representative of a larger portion of the Jordanian people.

Amongst all the election hubbub, there are a few other silver linings.  The quota for women representatives in the election was raised from 12 to 15, but even then two women did well enough to be elected outside of the quota.  Along with two who won seats on national lists, the number of female representatives is now 19.   There were even arrests made for allegations of vote-buying.  While much is left to be seen in terms of whether or not the monarch will carry through on his promises, a small victory has been won.  Are deeper reforms of the electoral process necessary?  Certainly, and soon.  Islamists are making alliances with tribal leaders, a partnership that could spell disaster for the regime, as it would mean their fiercest advocates being partnered with what has historically been their staunchest opposition.  But in a country as slow to change course as Jordan, every victory is worth celebrating.

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