Lower House Speaker Downplays Electoral Reform as Priority

Lower House Speaker Saad Hayel Srour downplayed the importance of electoral reform as a priority following comments by Prime Minister Ensour that the government was considering introducing an electoral reform law. According to Ammon News, on Sunday, Srour told parliament that because the next elections were more than three years away there was no urgency to move forward with electoral reform, and said other issues should be considered first.

Srour’s comments indicate two things – first, that the current parliament is expected to last the full four years, despite flaws in the electoral process used to elect it, and second, that electoral reform is likely to be shelved, at least for the time being. It is true that most of the attention is focused on other things such as the conflict in Syria, but it is important not to let this crisis, serious as it is, become an excuse by those who oppose implementing future reforms to delay them indefinitely.

Regardless of when it happens, the next round of electoral reform may be more politically contentious than previous ones. Not least is the fact that the areas that are likely to suffer in terms of their parliamentary representation are areas where unrest has recently occurred. Karak, for example, has 10 seats under the current electoral law when proportionally it should have 3, but this overrepresentation has not prevented it from being the site of protests and even violent incidents. Additionally, there is the question of how to encourage political party lists in the competition for the seats elected by proportional representation, as well as dialogue with groups that did not participate in the previous elections. These issues are best addressed sooner rather than later because they are likely to be contentious when the moment to consider electoral reform finally arrives.

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)

Rules/Regulations:

  • 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.

Conclusion

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.