Could Jordan’s Courts Dissolve Parliament?

The events in Syria have attracted a substantial amount of attention, but it is also important not to overlook other issues as well, such as a recent court ruling in Jordan that could result in new elections being held. It could also continue a potentially troubling precedent of judicial decisions that have dissolved elected houses of the legislature in more than one country.

The Jordanian Constitutional Court has said that it is reviewing the electoral law under which the elections were held in January after a lower court ruled that the law was unconstitutional. When asked about the issue a Spokesman said only that there has not been a decision that would dissolve the lower house of parliament so far, but implicitly left open the possibility that the Constitutional Court could make such a decision in the future. The court is required to issue a decision on this challenge to the electoral law within the next 30 days.

If the Constitutional Court were to rule that parliament was elected incorrectly, the decision would be the first of its kind in Jordan since the elected parliament was restored in November 1989, despite numerous revisions to the electoral law since then. However, it would not be the first time that a judicial decision has dissolved parliament in an Arab country. In June 2012 the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the lower house of the Egyptian parliament had been incorrectly elected and needed to be dissolved. The judges who issued that decision had been appointed under Mubarak, and the decision was seen by some as part of an effort to prevent Islamists from assuming power, but the actual result of the decision was rather different. What actually happened was that Mohamed Morsi won the July 2012 Presidential election held one month later and became President without a properly elected parliament (even one controlled by his party) to provide a check on his powers. Could this have led ultimately to the events which precipitated Morsi’s ouster? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But it is still important to recognize the fact that this decision and the lack of an elected parliament played a role in Morsi’s decision to try to take additional power for himself after he was elected.

Similar events have happened more than once in Kuwait as well, as a decision by their constitutional court ruled in 2012 that the parliament elected in February 2012 (and dominated by the opposition) was incorrected elected, and was thus dissolved. Then the Emir issued a decree changing the electoral law, and another election was held (and boycotted by the opposition) in December 2012, and the Constitutional Court overturned that election as well later on, which required yet another election this year.

Regardless of how one feels about the electoral law, giving the judiciary the authority to dissolve parliament with a court ruling is a poor precedent to set, and is probably not likely to provide the result that those challenging the electoral law have hoped for. It could even provide a way for the regime to dissolve a parliament that it was unhappy with in the future. It is true that the electoral system under which the elections were held in January was flawed, but it is also important to seek reform through means other than those which could have future unintended consequences.

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.

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.

Parliamentary Election Turnout: An Initial Reaction

The much-awaited parliamentary elections are over. The Independent Electoral Commission has estimated the turnout at 1.28 million voters, which is approximately 56 percent of Jordan’s approximately 2.3 million registered voters. The turnout of 56 percent was slightly higher than the 53 percent turnout in the most recent parliamentary elections in 2010.

Turnout has varied widely between regions, with the highest turnout reported in the bedouin districts, and the lowest turnout reported in Amman, Irbid, and Zarqa. These three governorates, which reported the lowest turnout are also the most underrepresented in the district seats in parliament, and this is likely not a coincidence. Amman has the largest ratio of residents to MPs in Jordan, with each MP representing 96,000 residents. Zarqa is the second most underrepresented governorate, with 85,000 residents per MP. The third most underrepresented governorate is Irbid, with 69,000 residents.

There is one aspect of the turnout that is worth looking into – within certain governorates the size of the individual districts can vary widely, and it should also be noted that many of the areas that have experienced protests are areas that are over represented in parliament. For example, Wasatiyeh, which witnessed the only fatality of a protester during the demonstrations following the fuel price increase, is located in the Ninth Irbid District. This district has one MP for 14,400 registered voters, compared to the Seventh District in Irbid which has one MP for 46,300 registered voters. It will be interesting to see if turnout is uniform across the Irbid governorate or if it is higher in the areas that have smaller ratios of MPs to voters.

As more results become available I will attempt to analyze their implications for events following the elections as the process of appointing a successor to Prime Minister Ensour begins.

الانتخابات البرلمانية: رد فعل مبدئي

قد و اخيراً انتهوا الانتخابات البرلمانية. وقدرت اللجنة الانتخابية المستقلة نسبة المشاركة 1.28 مليون ناخب، وهو ما يقرب من 56 في المئة من الناخبين المسجلين 2.3 مليون في الأردن.

وكان نسبة المشاركة 56 في المئة أعلى بقليل من نسبة المشاركة 53 بالمئة في الانتخابات البرلمانية الأخيرة في العام 2010.

و قد تختلف نسبة المشاركة على نطاق واسع بين المناطق وفقا لأعلى نسبة المشاركة في منطقة البادية وأقل نسبة المشاركة ذكرت في عمان، اربد، و الزرقاء.

هذه المحافظات الثلاث، حيث سجلت أقل نسبة مشاركة هي أيضا الأكثر تمثيلا ناقصا في منطقة المقاعد في البرلمان، وهذا ليس صدفة.

عمان لديها أكبر نسبة من السكان على أعضاء البرلمان في الأردن، و كل عضو في البرلمان يمثل سكان 96000. الزرقاء هي ثاني أكبر محافظة الممثلة تمثيلا ناقصا، مع 85000 من سكان عضوا في البرلمان. ثالث أكثر تمثيلا ناقصا هي محافظة اربد، مع 69000 شخص.

هناك جانب واحد من نسبة المشاركة وهذا هو النظر في قيمتها داخل بعض المحافظات، يمكن أن حجم الدوائر الفردية تختلف على نطاق واسع، وعلينا ان نلاحظ أن العديد من المناطق التي لديها خبرة الاحتجاجات هي المناطق التي تمثل أكثر من في البرلمان . على سبيل المثال، في وسطية، التي شهدت القتيل الوحيد من المحتجين خلال المظاهرات بعد ارتفاع أسعار الوقود، في منطقة التاسعة في اربد. هذه المنطقة تضم عضوا واحدا في البرلمان عن 14400 ناخب مسجل، مقارنة مع الدائرة السابعة في اربد، والتي لديها عضو واحد في البرلمان عن 46300 ناخب مسجل. سيكون من المثير للاهتمام أن نرى ما اذا كان نسبة المشاركة موحد في جميع أنحاء محافظة أو إذا كان أعلى في المناطق التي لديها أصغر نسب أعضاء البرلمان للناخبين.

عندما تصبح المزيد من المعلومات، سأحاول احلل آثارها على الأحداث التي أعقبت الانتخابات في تجهيز تعيين رئيس الوزراء من بعد انسور.

Jordan’s 2013 Parliamentary Elections at a Glance

Updated January 23, 2013—Today, approximately 2.3 million registered Jordanian voters (out of approximately 3.3 million eligible voters, and a total population of about 6.2 million) will begin voting in parliamentary elections to elect 150 MPs to the House of Deputies. There are a total of 1475 candidates competing for these seats, including 191 women. Of these, 606 are competing for the local district seats (including 105 women) and 819 are competing for the party list seats (including 86 women).

While analyzing the politics of the campaign and elections, and their importance in the context of Jordanian political reform is essential, it is important at this stage to also understand how the seats are being allocated. This is important both to properly understand the results of the election, as well as the reasons why the elections have been divisive. The regime has described them as a step on the reform process, as King Abdullah will consult parliament before naming a Prime Minister, while much of the opposition, including the Islamic Action Front (IAF) and many reformists have decided not to participate in the election. Regardless of one’s position it is important to note the procedures involved in electing MPs to the new parliament.

It is important to note the following sources for more information about the electoral process. The census data from 2011 is from GeoHive, while the number of seats in each district are from the electoral commission website.

House of Deputies: What’s at stake?

There are a total of 150 seats in the House of Deputies. Of these, there are 108 elected from 45 districts, 27 elected from party lists nationwide, and 15 reserved for female candidates under a quota system. There are also 12 seats reserved for minority groups (9 for Christians and 3 for Circassians and Chechens), and 9 seats reserved for bedouin. These are included in the district seats. While this may seem very complicated, the summaries below will make it easy to understand.

The most important thing to remember is that Jordanians will cast not one but two votes: one for the party list seats and the other for their local constituency. This is different from prior elections in which Jordanians had cast one ballot.

The electoral reform law made changes to the election process, but much of the opposition argues that it does not go far enough and is merely cosmetic. The law increased the number of seats from 120 to 150, with the introduction of proportional representation for 27 seats, and an additional 3 more seats assigned to female candidates under a quota system, increasing the number of seats reserved for women from 12 to 15. What remains is 108 seats elected from districts, which vary greatly in size. In Amman, MPs represent 96,000 residents each, while in Tafila, each MP represents approximately 22,000 residents.

Party List Seats (27 seats) – UPDATED

There are a total of 27 seats that are allocated to party lists. As mentioned above, Jordanians will cast two votes, one of which is for the party list seats and the other is for the district seats. There are a total of 61 party lists competing for these seats and the lists each have between nine and twenty-seven candidates.

Unlike the proportional representation systems in many countries, there is no minimum percentage threshold for a list to win seats. The number of seats awarded to each list will be calculated using the following method:

  1. The total number of votes each list receives will be divided by the total number of votes that all party lists receive.
  2. The resulting percentage will be multiplied by 27, with the resulting integer number being the preliminary number of seats that is awarded to that particular list.
  3. The lists will then be ranked according to the remaining fractions of a seat that they would be awarded. The list with the largest fraction will then be awarded one additional seat. This will be repeated until all the seats have been awarded to party lists.

While this method may seem complicated, it is in fact not as complex as it seems. The following example will demonstrate how this method works in practice.


Total number of votes: 1 million

  • List A – 400,000 votes
  • List B – 350,000 votes
  • List C – 200,000 votes
  • List D – 40,000 votes
  • List E – 10,000 votes
  1. The total number of votes each list receives is divided by the total number of votes cast. This produces the resulting fractions: List A (0.4), List B (0.35), List C (0.2), List D (0.04), List E (0.01).
  2. These fractions are then multiplied by 27: List A (10.8), List B (9.45), List C (5.4), List D (1.08), List E (0.27). This translates into the following preliminary seat tally: List A (10), List B (9), List C (5), List D (1), and List E (no seats). This means that 25 out of 27 seats are allocated to lists, with two that remain unassigned.
  3. These two remaining seats are allocated in the order of the size of the fractional seats that each list would have been awarded, until all the seats have been distributed. This means that 1 additional seat is awarded to List A, because it has the largest fraction (0.8), and another seat is awarded to List B, with the second largest fraction (0.45).

This results in the following final allocation of seats for party lists:

  • List A – 11 seats
  • List B – 10 seats
  • List C – 5 seats
  • List D – 1 seat
  • List E – no seats.

District Seats (108 seats) – UPDATED

These seats are elected from 45 electoral districts, which vary greatly both in terms of population and in terms of the number of MPs they elect to parliament, and many areas that are historically loyal to the monarchy are overrepresented. The smallest districts elect one MP each, and the largest district, which is the First Electoral District in Balqa, elects seven MPs. The seats that are reserved for minority groups are assigned to certain districts, with the exception of the bedouin MPs, who are elected from three Bedouin districts which each elect three MPs.

The district seat MPs are elected using the single nontransferable vote system. In single-member districts the candidate who receives the most votes is elected. In a multi-member district  the number of MPs elected depends on the number of seats the district is allocated. For example, in the First District of Amman, which elects five MPs, the top five candidates will be elected to parliament.

The one exception to this is in districts where seats are reserved for minorities. In a seat such as the First Electoral District of Karak, which elects two Muslim MPs and one Christian MP, the top two Muslim candidates will be elected, as will the top Christian candidate. Voters – regardless of religious affiliation – can vote for whichever candidate they choose to support in these districts. In addition, Christian and Circassian voters who live in districts without a Christian or Circassian reserved seat can register to vote in a district that has a reserved seat provided that the district is located in the same governorate where they live.

In the previous election, there were “virtual districts” in each constituency, which meant that voters could vote in only one “virtual district” although they could choose which candidate to vote for regardless of where in the district they lived. These virtual districts were abolished by the electoral reform that was passed last year.

The following section is breakdown of the district seats by location.

Amman (Capital, Central Jordan)

The Amman governorate elects 25 MPs from seven districts. The Amman governorate has a total population of approximately 2.4 million in the 2011 census, meaning each MP represents 96,000 residents. Out of 25 MPs, there are 22 Muslim seats, 2 Circassian/Chechen seats, and 1 Christian seat. One of the Circassian seats was moved from the third district to the sixth district, causing controversy among some in the community who were upset by the move.

Balqaa (Central)

Balqaa elects 10 MPs from four districts, including 8 Muslim MPs and 2 Christian MPs. The governorate has a total population of approximately 419,000, meaning that each MP represents about 41,900 residents.

Madaba (Central)

Madaba elects 4 MPs from two electoral districts, including 3 Muslim seats and 1 Christian seat. The governorate has a population of approximately 156,000 residents, with each MP representing approximately 39,000 residents.

Zarqa (Central)

Zarqa elects 11 MPs from four districts, including 9 Muslim MPs, 1 Christian MP, and 1 Circassian/Chechen MP. The governorate has a total population of approximately 931,000, meaning that each MP represents approximately 85,000 residents.

Aljoun (North)

Aljoun elects 4 MPs from two electoral districts, including 3 Muslim seats and 1 Christian seat. The governorate has a total population of 144,000 residents, with each MP representing approximately 36,000 residents.

Irbid (North)

Irbid elects 17 MPs from nine electoral districts, including 16 Muslim MPs and one Christian MP. The governorate has a total population of approximately 1.1 million, with each MP representing approximately 69,000 residents.

Jerash (North)

Jerash elects 4 MPs from a single electoral district, all of which are Muslim seats. The governorate has a total of 188,000 residents, meaning that each MP represents approximately 47,000 residents.

Mafraq (North)

Mafraq elects 4 MPs from one electoral district, all of which are Muslim seats. The governorate has a population of approximately 179,000, meaning each MP represents approximately 45,000 residents.

It should be noted that this figure does not include the 3 Bedouin seats in the Northern Bedouin District, which are elected separately, although the district is located within this governorate. If these are included then the total number of seats from this governorate would increase to 7, but to avoid double counting these seats will be outlined below.

Aqaba (South)

Aqaba elects 2 MPs from a single electoral district, both of which are Muslim seats. The governorate has a population of approximately 136,000, with each MP representing 68,000.

Karak (South)

Karak elects 10 MPs from six districts, including 8 Muslim MPs and 2 Christian MPs. The governorate has a total population of approximately 244,000, meaning each MP represents approximately 24,400 residents.

Maan (South)

Maan elects 4 MPs from three districts, all of which are Muslim seats. The governorate has a total population of approximately 119,000, meaning each MP represents approximately 30,000 residents.

Tafila (South)

Tafila elects 4 MPs from two electoral districts, all of which are Muslim seats. The governorate has a population of approximately 88,000, with each MP representing approximatley 22,000 residents.

Bedouin Seats – UPDATED

There are a total of 9 seats reserved for Bedouin, which are divided into three Bedouin constituencies: Northern Bedouin, Central Bedouin, and Southern Bedouin. Each of these constituencies elects 3 MPs. The Northern Bedouin District is located within Mafraq governorate. The Central Bedouin district consists of parts of Amman governorate in the fourth electoral district. The Southern Bedouin District consists of parts of Aqaba and Maan governorates.

Bedouin districts are different from those which have seats reserved for the Christian or Circassian minorities. In those districts, voters are free to vote for any candidate they choose to support – for example, Muslim voters can vote for a Christian candidate if they choose to do so, and vice versa. In the three bedouin districts, the electoral law states which families are entitled to participate in electing MPs from each of the three bedouin districts. Members of these families are entitled to vote (and compete for seats in parliament) only in the bedouin district to which their family is assigned.

It should be noted that there are also three seats reserved for Bedouin women, which are included as part of the quota system.

Women’s Quota Seats (15 seats, including 3 reserved for Bedouin Women)

This election there are a total of 15 seats reserved for female candidates, including 3 that are reserved for Bedouin women. Women running for parliament do not campaign for these seats specifically, as they instead run in their districts. Each of the 12 governorates as well as each of the 3 bedouin districts is assigned one female quota seat.

In each governorate, the female candidate who receives the highest proportion of the vote in their district without being elected outright (but not the greatest number of votes, which is important because these districts have different populations) is awarded the female quota seat for that governorate. Prior to the electoral reform law passed last year, there were 12 seats reserved for women, one from each governorate. The electoral reform law added three additional seats for bedouin women, allocating one female quota seat to the female candidate receiving the highest proportion of votes (without being elected outright) in each of the three bedouin districts.

If a female candidate is elected outright then the quota seats would be assigned to other female candidates. In 2010 there were 12 quota seats, but a total of 13 women were elected to parliament because one candidate in Amman was able to get elected outright.

Could These Elections Bring Change After All?

On Wednesday, Jordan will hold a general election that has been touted by the regime as a step on the process to reform. What is actually going to happen is uncertain, but there are several different possibilities. One possibility is that the election produces a government that is chosen after token consultations with MPs allied with the government, and nothing will really change. There is also another, more hopeful possibility, which is that the election could lead to reform even if stalling was actually the regime’s original intention.

There is only one thing that seems certain – Prime Minister Ensour will tender his resignation the day after the election, and Jordan will have another new PM. This is likely because Ensour became the target of the protesters anger following the fuel price increases, but he is likely to remain in office as a caretaker while consultations take place, to select a PM who would be approved by a vote of confidence in the Lower House, even if the next PM is not necessarily an MP. It’s not clear who the next PM will be, but King Abdullah said in a recent discussion paper that if there was no clear majority in parliament then there would be consultations will all the relevant parliamentary blocs, and that the new PM would be approved by a vote of confidence in the lower house.

This is potentially a key change – in the current parliament having the PM be chosen by a vote of confidence is not significant immediately due to the election boycotts by much of the opposition. However, boycotts might not necessarily take place in future elections, and having the PM be approved in this manner is something that would be politically very difficult for the regime to reverse without losing further credibility.

What is most uncertain about the election is the makeup of the next parliament. With Islamists and many reformists boycotting, many leftist parties see a chance for political gains. However,  in a recent article on Al-Arabiya, one analyst, Mohamed Abu Rumman said that leftist parties are unlikely to win more than two to three seats in the next parliament. Part of the reason for this is their fragmentation. There are three lists mentioned in the article, including the People’s List and the Ploughmen’s Successor’s List which are all competing against each other for votes.  What is even less clear is the performance of the other parties – including those such as the National Current Party, which is headed by former Speaker Abdul Hadi Al Majali and the United National List which is headed by his relative Ayman Al-Majali, who both have conservative reputations, and could constitute a loyalist bloc in the next parliament.

With the election only two days away, much is uncertain. Perhaps the most important events of this election will be what happens after it takes place.

Vote Buying and the Role of MPs in a Democracy

Recently Ahmed Safadi, a former Member of Parliament who is currently contesting the election in the Amman third district was ordered detained on the allegation of vote-buying. Allegedly, he was illegally in possession of voter identification cards.

There have also been other instances of candidates being arrested during the campaign, including Mohammed Khushman, the Secretary General of the Jordanian National Union Party. Khushman was alleged to have pledged that voters in Salt would receive financial assistance in return for their support for him during the campaign, and also pledged that a local club would receive renovation in the event that he was elected to parliament. Jordan Times also reports that there will likely be more candidates who are arrested for participation in other “vote buying” activities.

According to the regime’s narrative, arrests like this are intended to curb the power of “political money” in the upcoming elections. Without addressing the allegations, which are quite possibly true, it is important to recognize some issues with both the Jordanian political process in general and these recent arrests in particular.

First, we must recognize that the regime itself has engaged in “vote-buying” activities through its manipulation of the electoral process, which continues to this day in the form of malapportioned electoral districts that frequently vary greatly in population size. During the campaign, the allegations against Khushman (who was, it should be noted, running on a national list rather than in a local district) were that he pledged that voters in Salt would receive financial assistance if he were elected, and that a local club would be renovated. In making these promises, he is pledging that as an MP his supporters will receive benefits for being connected to him. This is not uncommon in Jordan historically, as MPs have frequently been selected based on affinities and connections that can include tribal, family, or personal ties. Voters support these candidates due to their ability to most effectively provide patronage. In a parliament with relatively little power, this was seen as the most effective role that an MP could play. When the regime created malapportioned electoral districts, it was doing the same thing, providing the residents of the smaller districts privileged access to the resources of the state, and thus engaging in a form of vote buying on its own. It is worth noting that the present electoral law does nothing to change this, as it merely increases the number of MPs and adds 27 seats that will be elected via a national list.

Second, it can hardly be said that the decisions about who gets arrested in Jordan are made in an impartial or just manner. With widespread corruption, the state could pick and choose which of the guilty parties are to be prosecuted and which are not. The decisions of this type do not necessarily have to come from King Abdullah or senior regime officials, but rather could come from rivals seeking to prevent a candidate from being elected. This allegation was made by Ghassan Savadi, the brother and campaign manager for Ahmed Safadi, and whether or not it is true in this instance (and there is a good chance that it’s not) it is entirely possible that either the regime or rival candidates could corrupt the judicial process for their own political ends. Corrupt candidates and officials must face prosecution, but they must be prosecuted by independent prosecutors and tried in independent courts.

None of this is to say that those arrested were not guilty, but rather, the regime is prosecuting candidates for making pledges of financial or other support when its own hands on this issue are hardly clean. Arrests – even if they happen to be of the guilty – do nothing to change the reality that it is the system itself that must change.

What Happens After January 23rd?


January 23rd is rapidly approaching, and many have wondered what will happen when this magical day arrives.

King Abdullah gave an interview with Al-Rai and the Jordan Times in which he placed great emphasis on the upcoming parliamentary elections on January 23rd. He talked about the elections as though they were a major step in the reform process and that everything would magically change after they were held.

King Abdullah promised that “The future of reform is in the hands of the Jordanian voters as they go to the polls early next year” in his interview with Jordan Times and Al-Rai. He said this of Jordanian voters: “They are the ones who will decide the composition of the coming parliament and government. What we seek to establish is a process whereby voters hold deputies and the government emerging from the coming House accountable, based on their platforms and the solutions they suggest to the various challenges.”

He said this of the electoral law: “We have the Elections Law that was developed to a certain level at this stage of reform and was enacted through constitutional channels. However, it will be open for debate, development and change by future parliaments.” He has said previously that the new Prime Minister will be chosen by parliament after the elections. He claims that the elections will be a step on the way to having a true parliamentary government.

What does all this really mean? The answer is nothing, or if something does happen it is only going to be symbolic. If King Abdullah were serious about reform he would have implemented it five years ago, but nothing has changed. The regime has done nothing substantive that actually limited the power of the monarchy. Yes many changes in the government have been made, four to be exact in two years. What Jordan needs is a visionary. Someone who is willing to go against the regime and implement real change for the people. King Abdullah track record proves that he’s not ready for reform nor does he know how to implement true reform.

Reform is complicated, hard, and will surely not happen overnight. However, one must start the reform process somewhere for anything to really change. We are not expecting to wake up tomorrow to a newly reformed country, what is expected however, is incremental steps taken by the King to show the people that he does care. These small steps cannot be in the form of false promises, interview opportunities and democratization papers but rather real steps that are beneficial to the citizens, not just the elite.

At this point, all reform is on hold until the magical day arrives, January 23, 2013. In the words of King Abdullah “despite the difficult situation we are in, I am optimistic about the future. God willing, we will overcome this crisis.”