Electoral Reform in Jordan Since 1989 at a Glance

Electoral reform is a major issue in Jordanian politics right now. Although these elections were held under a new electoral law, many have argued the current law is inadequate and should be reformed, and King Abdullah himself criticized the electoral law as flawed in his recent speech from the throne. As the direction of future electoral reform is debated in the coming months and years, it is helpful to understand the history of Jordanian electoral reform since elections were restored in 1989. The electoral reform bill passed last year was in fact only the latest of numerous changes to the electoral process since parliamentary elections were restored.

In April 1989, bread riots erupted following the implementation of austerity measures backed by the International Monetary Fund. In response to the riots and growing public discontent the regime announced that parliamentary elections would be held in November 1989, under an electoral law passed in 1986. The details of the electoral law are summarized in the next section.

Electoral Law (1989)

80 seats total:

  • 68 Muslim Arab
  • 9 Christian (6% of population, 11.25% of seats)
  • 3 Circassian/Chechen (less than 1% of population; 3.25% of seats)
  • 6 Bedouin (3.25% of population; 7.5% of seats)

By region (areas in red are underrepresented, while areas in blue are overrepresented):

  • Amman: 18 seats (1 Christian, 2 Circassian) (should have 28 if districts were equal size)
  • Madaba: 3 seats (1 Christian); (should have 2)
  • Balqa: 8 seats (2 Christian); (should have 6)
  • Karak: 7 seats (2 Christian); (should have 3)
  • Tafileh: 3 seats (should have 1)
  • Ma’an: 5 seats (should have 2)
  • Zarqa: 6 seats (1 Christian, 1 Circassian) (should have 8)
  • Mafraq: 3 seats (should have 2)
  • Irbid: 9 seats (1 Christian) (should have 10)
  • Aljoun: 3 seats (1 Christian) (should have 2)
  • Jerash: 2 seats (should have 3)
  • Ramtha & Bani Kinanah: 3 seats (correct amount)
  • Kourah & North Jordan Valley: 2 seats (should have 4)
  • Northern Bedouin (Bani Khalid, Azamat): 2 seats (should have 1)
  • Central Bedouin (Bani Sakhr): 2 seats (correct amount)
  • Southern Bedouin (Huwaitat): 2 seats (should have 1)


  • Political Parties Illegal
  • Nonpartisan party lists allowed
  • Voting age 19
  • Voters could cast as many votes as there were seats

1989 General Election Results

  • Muslim Brotherhood – 22 seats (14.54% of vote)
  • Independent Islamist – 11 seats (5.22%)
  • Tribal/Centrist Independents – 33 seats (12.86%)
  • Leftists – 6 seats (2.54%)
  • Arab Nationalists – 8 seats (2.54%)

In the aftermath of this election the regime was surprised by the strong showing of the opposition, particularly Islamists, and decided to alter the rules to favor tribal and independent candidates allied with the regime. The results was the electoral law of 1993.

Electoral Law (1993)

  • Number of votes each voter can cast reduced to one.
  • Districts remain the same.number of votes each voter can cast reduced to one.
  • Political parties were legalized in 1992.

1993 General Election Results

  • Tribal/Centrist Independents – 44 seats
  • Islamic Action Front – 16 seats (-6)
  • Independent Islamists – 6 seats (-5)
  • Jordan National Alliance Party – 4 seats
  • Al-Ahd Party – 3 seats
  • Al-Yakatha Party – 2 seats
  • Al-Mustakbal Party – 1 seat
  • Jordan Arab Baath Party – 1 seat
  • Jordan Arab National Democratic Party – 1 seat
  • Jordan Communist Party – 1 seat
  • Jordan Democratic People’s Party – 1 seat

The measures that the regime took that favored independent candidates worked, and the Islamists lost seats. Turnout was up slightly. The regime was able to use its new majority in parliament to ratify the peace treaty with Israel and pass economic legislation. In response to the government’s actions during

1997 General Election

  • Tribal/Centrist Independents – 71 seats
  • Independent Islamists – 4 seats
  • National Constitutional Party – 1 seat
  • Arab Land Party – 1 seat
  • Jordanian Popular Democratic Unity Party – 1 seat
  • Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party – 1 seat

This election was held in a climate of increased censorship. Much of the opposition, including the Islamic Action Front, boycotted the election. Turnout declined to 44 percent.

Electoral Law (2001)

110 seats total (+30):

  • 83 Muslim Arab (+15)
  • 9 Christian (6% of population, 8.1% of seats)
  • 3 Circassian/Chechen (less than 1% of population; 2.7% of seats)
  • 9 Bedouin (3.25% of population; 7.5% of seats) (+3 Bedouin Seats)
  • 6 women’s quota seats (top 6 female candidates with highest vote percentage who weren’t elected outright)

By region:

  • Amman: 23 seats (+5) (1 Christian, 2 Circassian) (should have 37 if districts were equal size)
  • Madaba: 3 seats (+1) (1 Christian); (should have 3)
  • Balqa: 10 seats (+2) (2 Christian); (should have 8)
  • Karak: 10 seats (+3)  (2 Christian); (should have 3)
  • Tafileh: 4 seats (+1) (should have 2)
  • Ma’an: 4 seats (+1) (should have 1)
  • Aqaba: 2 seats (should have 1)*
  • Zarqa: 10 (+4) seats (1 Christian, 1 Circassian) (should have 14)
  • Mafraq: 3 seats (should have 2)
  • Irbid: 16 seats (+9 including seats added from Kourah and Ramtha) (1 Christian) (should have 18)#
  • Aljoun: 3 seats (1 Christian) (correct amount)
  • Jerash: 4 seats (+2) (should have 3)
  • Northern Bedouin (Bani Khalid, Azamat): 3 seats (+1) (should have 1)
  • Central Bedouin (Bani Sakhr): 3 seats (+1) (should have 1)
  • Southern Bedouin (Huwaitat): 3 seats (+1) (should have 1)

*Removed from Ma’an in 1997. #Ramtha & Bani Kinanah as well as the district of Koura & North Jordan Valley were merged into the Irbid district.

When the parliament elected in 1997 reached the end of its term in 2001, King Abdullah – who took the throne in 1999 – promulgated a new electoral decree, and said that elections would be delayed for 10 months while it was implemented. However, elections ended up not being held until 2003. Subsequently, The seats were not added in an equal manner, the issue of malapportionment remained. For the first time, there were 6 women’s quota seats allocated to the best performing female candidates who did not win seats outright.

2003 General Election

  • Independents – 77 seats (5 women’s quota seats)
  • Islamic Action Front – 17 seats (1 women’s quota seat)
  • National Constitutional Party – 11 seats
  • Democratic Leftist – 2 seats
  • Popular Committees Movement Party – 1 seat

2007 General Election

  • Independents – 104 (including 6 women’s quota seats)
  • Islamic Action Front – 6

Electoral Law (2010)

In 2010, a new electoral law was passed that made two major changes:

  1. The number of seats in parliament was increased from 110 to 120, with the women’s quota increasing from 6 to 12. Four seats were added, including two to Amman, 1 to Zarqa, and 1 to Irbid.
  2. “Virtual Districts” were created. Each “virtual district” was its one race, as if it were a subdistrict, but voters could decide which virtual district in which they were going to vote, but could choose only one.

2010 General Election: Much of the opposition, including the Islamic Action Front, boycotted the election, resulting in a sweep by pro-government loyalists and tribal figures.

Electoral Law (2012)

150 seats total (+30):

  • 27 National List Seats elected from lists by proportional representation (created by 2012 electoral law)

120 District Seats:

  • 87 Muslim Arab
  • 9 Christian (6% of population, 6% of seats)
  • 3 Circassian/Chechen (less than 1% of population; 2% of seats)
  • 9 Bedouin (3.25% of population; 6% of seats)

15 women’s quota seats: (+3 women’s quota seats from Bedouin Districts)


By region:

  • Amman: 25 seats (1 Christian, 2 Circassian) (should have 37 if districts were equal size)
  • Madaba: 3 seats (1 Christian); (should have 3)
  • Balqa: 10 seats (2 Christian); (should have 8)
  • Karak: 10 seats (2 Christian); (should have 3)
  • Tafileh: 4 seats (should have 2)
  • Ma’an: 4 seats (should have 1)
  • Aqaba: 2 seats (should have 1)*
  • Zarqa: 11 seats (+1) (1 Christian, 1 Circassian) (should have 14)
  • Mafraq: 3 seats (should have 2)
  • Irbid: 17 seats (+1) (1 Christian) (should have 18)#
  • Aljoun: 3 seats (1 Christian) (correct amount)
  • Jerash: 4 seats (should have 3)
  • Northern Bedouin (Bani Khalid, Azamat): 3 seats (should have 1)
  • Central Bedouin (Bani Sakhr): 3 seats (should have 1)
  • Southern Bedouin (Huwaitat): 3 seats (should have 1)

This election resulted in the use of proportional representation for a portion of the seats for the first time. Jordanians would cast two votes – one for National Lists and the other for Individual Seats. Virtual Districts were eliminated by the 2012 electoral law. Much of the opposition, including the Islamic Action Front, boycotted the election saying that the changes were not adequate.

2013 General Election

Numerous parties won National List Seats, including the Islamic Centrist Party (3 seats), Stronger Jordan (2 seats), Naiton (2 seats), and National Union (2 seats). Eighteen other parties each won one seat. For the results of the 2013 election in detail, click here for the election results post.


Electoral reform is a pressing issue facing the current parliament as it begins its term. Most political actors, ranging from the Islamic Action Front to King Abdullah (in his speech from the throne) have said that the current law is inadequate, and should be replaced by the coming parliament. The new parliament, however, will have many MPs who owe their election to malapportioned districts, which presents a problem in itself. No doubt whatever measures are taken, electoral reform will be a major subject of political debate during the current parliamentary term and beyond.


Is the Regime Blaming the Syrian Refugee Crisis for Its Reform Failures?

King Abdullah of Jordan, alongside his Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh have once again attempted to deflect criticism from their own regime’s failures by blaming external events. In this case, they are blaming the spillover of Syrian refugees across the border into Jordan for many of the nation’s recent difficulties. The spillover of Syrian refugees has been occurring since the Syrian revolution, and the effects of it cannot be ignored.

According to UNHCR approximately 205,000 refugees have entered the country and this number is only expected to increase. Jordan has always been notable for its open-door policies regarding its surrounding countries, as seen in 2007 with the spillover of Iraqi refugees, not to mention that 67 percent of the population is of Palestinian origin. The effects of these refugees have hurt and will continue to hurt Jordan economically, socially, and politically. First, these refugees are not allowed to work in the country, leaving them economically strained. Second, Jordan doesn’t have the funds to support these refugees, leaving 70 percent of the them dispersed in the cities along the border with Syria rather than the refugee camps, creating problems for aid groups attempting to locate them and provide assistance. More importantly, Jordan doesn’t have the means to support its own people let alone outsiders seeking refuge from conflict.

In an interview with Foreign Policy’s Marc Lynch, Nasser Judeh asserts that not only has the international community not helped aid Jordan in this crisis, but also this crisis will deeply hurt Jordan. However, the regime is no way in trouble solely due to the spillover of refugees. The protests in Jordan that have occurred every Friday since January 2011 have rarely if not ever called for the government to address the Syria issue, rather the people taking to the streets are demanding reform regarding domestic issues such as corruption, the economic crisis, the role of the Mukhabarat (Jordanian state security) in people’s everyday lives, human rights violations, and so forth.

We must also note that in 2007, the Jordanian government inflated the number of Iraqi refugees coming into the country to receive more international funding. Once this funding was received, Jordan did not efficiently allocate the funding to solve the crisis. Would it be above this regime to inflate the number of Syrian refugees in the country at some point to obtain additional funding?

The true impact of the spillover of Syrian refugees into Jordan can only be analyzed seriously if the regime is truthful about the rest of the issues it’s facing. Jordan is not going to fall because of these refugees, but the crisis in Syria is going to deeply affect the current problems the regime, and the nation at large are facing. One cannot address the issues of the influx of refugees in its proper context until the other demands for reform are either met or at least talked about in a serious manner that isn’t intended to simply appease the people by promising fictional reform, and blaming events outside of Jordan when the regime does not live up to its promises.

The (Old) New Court Chief Who Is Helping to Pick Jordan’s Next PM

Jordan is in the midst of a political process that is unprecedented, even though it definitely falls short of the regime’s narrative that this election would bring fundamental change and parliamentary government. Despite falling short of the regime’s narrative, it is nonetheless true that the process of appointing the next government is being conducted differently from the process by which its predecessors were appointed.

Previous Prime Ministers were appointed directly by the King, while Prime Minister Ensour’s successor will be chosen in consultation with parliament. New Royal Court Chief Fayez Tarawneh will meet with the major blocs in parliament for consultations, starting with the largest. Independent MPs will be consulted afterwards.

Tarawneh’s recent appointment as Royal Court Chief was the second time that he had held the position. In a certain way, he’s always been someone whom King Abdullah has turned to when he faces difficulties. When King Abdullah first assumed the throne, Tarawneh was Prime Minister. In January 2000, when conservative Prime Minister Abdur Rauf far-Rawabdeh, and controversial liberal court chief Abdelkarim al-Kabariti were feuding over numerous issues, including economic policy, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and Jordan’s relationship with Iraq. Rawabdeh was seen as pro-Baghdad while Kabariti’s dislike of Saddam Hussein was well known.

When King Abdullah decided to replace Kabariti as Court Chief, whom did he appoint? Fayez Tarawneh, who had a strong working relationship with Rawabdeh. His stronger relationship with Rawabdeh was surely due at least in part to Kabariti’s abrasive nature (as PM Kabariti the budget for the royal court, but also cut bread subsidies and blamed the ensuing riots on Iraqi interference, and had an Iraqi diplomat expelled). However, there is something else also at work here – When Tarawneh was appointed by King Abdullah to replace Kabariti, it represented a victory for those who were opposed even to reforms that were intended to bolster the regime over the long term. Tarawneh’s good professional relationship with Rawabdeh would, in part, have been due to the fact that Tarawneh’s positions on these issues were more in line with those of Rawabdeh, a conservative plagued by rumors of corruption.

As Royal Court Chief, Tarawneh forcefully defended the government’s position prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, saying that Jordan’s economic relationship with the United States was vital, despite his personal objections – and those of many within the Jordanian government – to a US-led invasion of Iraq. He also implied that the US would make its decision to go to war based on its own interests rather than those of Jordan.

It is interesting to note that King Abdullah actually may have tried to get rid of Tarawneh in 2003, when he appointed him to the senate, and selected Faisal al-Fayez as his replacement at the Royal Court.  Despite this, Tarawneh remained a staunch loyalist (referred to in a cable leaked by wikileaks as a “hardcore East Banker”, and in 2005 bragged about having a local Imam at his mosque in West Amman arrested for discussing radical politics while at the mosque during prayer services, and called for the arrest of more extremist clerics, and accused the IAF of being a front for Hamas. In March 2006 he talked to the American Ambassador about his fear that the IAF and Muslim Brotherhood would triumph if direct elections for Mayors and council members were restored.  Regardless of what one thinks of the IAF, Tarawneh was willing to undermine democratic elections in order to defeat an opposing political party. This does not bode well for reform or parliamentary democracy.

Last year, when King Abdullah ousted PM Awn Khasawneh and harshly criticized him in the letter accepting his resignation in which the King accused Khasawneh of going slow on reform, he called on Tarawneh to become Prime Minister a second time, though he lasted for only a few months before Ensour was appointed to replace him. Ensour was said to be the last PM appointed directly by the King, but with Ensour unlikely to remain in his position, who is leading the negotiations from the palace’s side to choose his successor? Fayez Tarawneh.  This doesn’t mean that the election has not brought some degree of change (though less than the regime’s narrative), but Tarawneh’s role leaves those hoping for real reform over the long term with little to look forward to.

Jordan’s New Parliamentary Majority?


On Sunday, Jordan’s parliament will convene for the first time since the elections on January 23.  As it convenes, the post-election political landscape in Jordan is beginning to take shape, and it is interesting to see what will happen in the coming weeks and months.Currently, there are three blocs that are in negotiations to form a coalition that would control 70 out of 150 seats – the Homeland (Watan) Bloc led by Khalil Atiyeh (with 38 MPs) the Islamic Centrist Party (led by Mohammad al-Haj), with 16 MPs have already agreed to form a coalition, and they are negotiating with the Future Bloc to form a coalition that if agreed upon would have a total of 70 of the 150 seats in parliament.

Does this coalition represent a potential new governing alliance in Jordan over the long term? Does it’s potential formation mean that one of its members will be appointed by King Abdullah as the new Prime Minister?

Despite the size of this potential coalition, its leaders do not necessarily seem likely to become Prime Minister. Remember, King Abdullah has said that the next PM is not necessarily going to be an MP – what is different is that this time they would be subject to a vote of confidence in parliament. Rather, the real competition among MPs appears to be for the speakership, and several candidates for the position held a debate regarding how to strengthen the parliament.  One of the leaders of this potential coalition, Mohammad al-Haj, who is Secretary General of the Islamic Centrist Party is a candidate for the speakership, as are two former speakers, Saed Hayel Srour and Abdul Karim Dughmi, along with leftist Musfafa Shneikat and Mahmoud Kharabsheh. Kharabsheh served as head of the legal affairs committee when he investigated a bribe that was allegedly taken by the son of a former Prime Minister in 2000.

The candidates have different ideas about the proper role of the Speaker. Srour argued against the speaker being a member of any political bloc. If either Shneikat or al-Haj were elected it would signal that the other model – of a partisan spakership – might be taking hold. Perhaps much depends on King Abdullah’s choice of Prime Minister – if he chooses someone with ties to this coalition (though not necessarily a member – then the speakership becomes less important because of the coalition’s affiliation with the PM. If the PM is more of a nonpartisan or technocratic figure then the speakership becomes the highest-possible partisan position and a political bargaining chip in negotiations over future governments.

All eyes then, are on King Abdullah, and his decision on whom to appoint as Jordan’s next Prime Minister. Although the loyalists remain in power, there have been changes that were made beginning with this parliament, and his actions, as well as those of the MPs in electing their speaker will likely set precedents that will endure long into the future.

Protests Erupt in Kuwait Following Detention of Former MPs

Protests erupted in Kuwait on Tuesday following a court verdict in which three former MPs – Falah al-Sawwagh, Bader al-Dahoun, and Khaled al-Tahous, were sentenced to three years of hard labor for allegedly insulting the Emir at rallies opposing changes to the electoral law last year. Despite being convicted, the three MPs are not yet in custody, and in fact they attended opposition rallies. On Monday a Twitter user was jailed for five years for insulting the Emir. The verdicts are not final and are subject to appeal, and at the rallies protesters marched from the home of Sawwagh to Tahus. At the rally, former MP Musallam al-Barrak, who is facing charges similar to those faced by the three former MPs who were convicted of insulting the Emir called the verdict political and said that the opposition would have a meeting to strategize that would be held on Wednesday. Barrak said that protests would be held very day in various areas throughout Kuwait. Perhaps in a sign of things to come, Falah ben Jami, the leader of the Awazem, who are the largest Bedouin tribe in Kuwait, appared at the rally and warned that the political situation in Kuwait would deteriorate like it did in Yemen, Egypt, and Tunisia.

The regime appears to be responding to criticism by defending its actions as consistent with upholding the constitution of Kuwait. The Ministry of Information’s comments on the recent convictions present the arrests of critics of the regime as almost a constitution obligation, as though there was nothing that motivated these arrests other than a desire to defend the constitution, which happens to define the Emir’s position is inviolable. In fact, they issued a statement saying that citizens could change the constitution if they sought to do so, presenting the issue as one of constitutionalism – which would, if one ignores the measures that the regime has taken recently, including the Emir’s electoral decree changing the entire voting system – be a plausible argument, though in fact the arrests were clearly political. It was part of a growing campaign by the regime to clamp down on dissent and erode what was once the Gulf’s most open political culture.

It is important to recognize that the law under which the three former MPs were arrested – which prohibits criticism of the Emir – is not only bad policy on a philosophical sense but also in a practical sense. In Tunisia, they decided not to include a clause prohibiting blasphemy in the constitution on practical grounds – in the words of the speaker of the constituent assembly, there would not be a blasphemy clause “not because we have agreed to (allow) attacks on the sacred, but because the sacred is something very, very difficult to define.” Insulting someone’s religious beliefs is much more serious than insulting a country’s ruler, but the same principle outlined by the Tunisian Constituent Assembly Speaker applies – the problem is not just that the Emir’s position is considered to be inviolable, thus making criticism illegal, but also that the definition of criticism itself is difficult to define, and open to political manipulation.

Just as in Tunisia, where they did not include a blasphemy clause due to concerns that politicians might one day accuse those disagreeing with them of blasphemy, there is the potential that prohibiting criticism of the Emir permits those who are opposed to political reform to define criticism in their own terms, and for them to argue that any objection to actions taken by the Emir – including the electoral decree – are in violation of the constitution. The opposition MPs defined their speeches not as criticism but rather as advice. Repealing the provision in the constitution prohibiting criticism of the Emir is right not just in terms of free speech but also because it would deprive the regime of one of the tools it uses to harass anyone who criticises its decisions and policies.

Riots Show Jordan’s Political Crisis Continues

The elections were supposed to bring change, so why did riots take place throughout Jordan for several days afterwards? These events show that far from being over, the country’s political crisis continues to smolder. It’s not explosive, but its still there and still smoldering in the background of everything taking place in Jordanian politics. A total of 31 riots were said to have taken place between January 23rd (when the election was held) and January 26th, and these riots included shootings, blocked roads, and attacks on public institutions. Protesters also tried to attack Prime Minister Ensour’s home in Salt and the headquarters of the IEC in Amman, although police blocked their path in both locations. In Mafraq one person died in clashes between the supporters of rival tribal candidates, and there have been tribal protesters chanting slogans in support of the opposition, while the Muslim Brotherhood was largely absent.

Why is all of this happening? Part of it, of course, is the rivalries between tribal candidates causing clashes, but there is something more here as well. The election was not accepted universally by all political groups as a means of bringing about change in the way Jordan is governed. Many of them, including the Islamic Action Front and many reformist groups boycotted because they felt that the election was more of a way of the loyalists giving themselves legitimacy than it was a genuine effort at political reform.

These sentiments may have been reinforced by the selection of the person who is going to be negotiating on behalf of the regime when discussions on the selection of the next government begin: former Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh, who is now Chief of the Royal Court. According to a recent Al-Monitor article, Tarawneh was selected because for exactly this role. According to the article, “During the past years, Tarawneh has become known for doing what is asked of him quite accurately, and for being a good manager of the pawns in the political game, in accordance with the inclinations of decision-makers.” In this case, his selection might perhaps be another sign of the inclinations of decision makers. King Abdullah appointed him as PM when he ousted former Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh, and he is appointing him Royal Court Chief now. If his appointment is indeed a signal of the regime’s inclinations, then does not bode well for future efforts at reform during the coming parliament.