Update 1: Protesters Rally Against “Theatrial Plays” on Reform

**Update**More protests were held on Friday, March 15th in Amman. There were two rallies on Friday: an Islamist rally in downtown Amman with about 1000 participants and a leftist rally that attracted about 200 in Ashrafiye. The protests in Amman focused on both political and economic griefances. They criticized Prime Minister Ensour’s economic policies for seeking to raise prices, and called for his resignation. The protests also focused on the issue of corruption, as demonstrators chanted “We demand freedom from corruption.” The dissolution of parliament was another demand, and this may indicate that some of the demonstrators may have been affiliated with parties or movements supporting the boycott in January, including the Islamic Action Front. Protesters said they would hold a sit-in on the airport road beginning March 21st to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the March 24th rally that was broken up by security forces. Protests were not convinced to Amman alone, as rallies were also held elsewhere including in Irbid, Tafileh, Kafak, and Maan.

These protests and their persistence around Jordan indicate the sentiment that reform measures have been inadequate is widely held. To try and dismiss protests such as these as organized by parties such as the Islamic Action Front seeking to gain power misses the point entirely. If a group of people gathers to demonstrate they do so because of their grievances, not their party affiliation. These demands – for electoral reform, for an end to corruption, and against higher prices are widely held, even if watching events in nearby countries such as Syria, Egypt, or Tunisia may have made some Jordanians wary of similar events happening in Jordan. The higher turnout in January’s election over the previous one is perhaps best interpreted as a desire for a different type of change from that in other regional states, not an endorsement of the status quo. If the regime does not need these calls then future protests, and greater frustration with the political process are inevitable.

**Original Post**Another large protest attended by hundreds of people was held in Amman on Friday in front of the Al-Husseini Mosque. There was a diverse crowd or participants including Islamists, youth movements, and other reformists, and the rally used the slogan “Crisis of Governance, Not Governments.” The protesters chanted that the regime was not genuine in implementing reform efforts, saying that it was engaged in a “mere theatrical play.” They also called for reforms to the electoral law and for amending the constitution. There were also criticisms made of the government’s efforts to free Khaled Natour, who was detained in Saudi Arabia about two months ago. He had taken part in protests outside of the Saudi Embassy in Jordan against the crackdown in Bahrain.

The criticism that the regime’s reforms are a “mere theatrical play” have a significant amount of validity when one examines issues such as, for example, corruption. Perhaps the definition of a theatrical play is something that puts on a spectacle but is not actually real, or in this case not actually achieving change. In Amman Criminal Court right now, Walid Kurdi, former Chairman of the Jordan Phosphate Mining Company  (and husband of Princess Basma, aunt of King Abdullah) is on trial for corruption. He was indicted on January 2nd, and his assets have been seized. Witnesses have been called, evidence has been examined, and charges have been made that outline Kurdi’s alleged conduct, including involvement in overpriced shipping contracts signed shortly after the company’s privatization with a firm that he controlled along with his relatives. Putting an uncle of the King on trial for corruption is intended make it seem as though change is happening, and that no one is above the law.

There is, however, a problem: Kurdi left Jordan on a flight to London January 6, 2012 and has not returned since then. There’s a major corruption trial being held, but the defendant is missing. He is thought by some sources to still be in the UK, but the government has not filed an Interpol arrest warrant, and little progress if any seems to have been made on his extradition to face the charges.

If there were an example of a theatrical play on the issue of corruption, Kurdi’s trial would be one. This issue is just one example of how reform measures often seem to be oriented more towards making it appear action is being taken rather than taking the difficult measures needed to bring about change. This is true not just on corruption but on other issues as well such as elections, where improvements in process have been made but the electoral law remains unfair. This is why protests such as this continue to happen. People do not feel that the political process is capable of bring about substantive change.

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.

 

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.

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.

How Jordan’s Loyalists Stayed in Charge

Jordan held an election last Wednesday that was hailed by the regime as an important step on the path to reform. Turnout reached 56 percent despite boycotts by much of the opposition, including the Islamic Action Front and many reformists. People voted in the hope that this election with a modified electoral law would bring change. I held many of the same hopes myself, but it is clear that despite everything, for now the loyalists remain firmly in charge. How did this happen?

Political power is still centralized among a small clique of insiders with ties to the regime. The new Chief of the Royal Court is former Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh, who was appointed as PM following the King’s dismissal of Awn Khasawneh. The new PM has not been announced yet, but it should be noted that the King has said he will consult with parliamentary blocs, and one of the largest blocs is the National Current Party, which is headed by former Speaker Abdul Hadi al-Majali, who a few years ago spoke against electoral reform, although he appears to have changed his position during the most recent election campaign. Still, if someone was on record opposing even the modest electoral reforms during the most recent parliament, then it is unlikely that they will be supportive of further reform in the future, except perhaps to the degree that they consider it to be a necessity.

How did this situation come about? Former Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher points out that even after the reform passed last year, the current electoral law remains inadequate and means parliament cannot exercise oversight of the executive branch. He addresses three issues in his article that are crucial to the reform process: (1) electoral reform, including a gradual increase in the number of seats allocated to party lists; (2) prosecuting and preventing corruption; and (3) economic reform, addressing the current economic crisis as well as unemployment, inequality, and Jordan’s continued dependence on outside aid.

Right now, it seems as though many loyalists have examined the results exactly the wrong way. 56 percent of registered voters did not turn out to vote because they wanted the way that Jordan is governed to remain the same. They did so, I think, in the hope that this time would be the start on the process of change. However, with many of those who opposed even modest reforms in a strong position, it is easy to be skeptical of whether the new parliament will produce meaningful reforms.

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.

What the Electricity Price Increase Delay Means for the Election

The government implied once again that it is going to raise electricity prices, it just won’t happen in the next two weeks before the election. The cabinet stated that both price increases and power cuts are likely to happen, but that the decision to change (code word for “raise”) electricity rates would be made by the next cabinet after the election.

The way Jordan Times reports the decision is revealing. Their article about it says that there were two factors in this decision: “the caretaker government’s limited mandate-namely to oversee the January 23 parliamentary elections,” and “the ongoing impact of a decision to slash energy subsidies.” The decision to eliminate fuel subsidies was, of course, made by the caretaker government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour. That decision triggered widespread protests across Jordan. Yet when that decision was made the government did not consider it outside the scope of its mandate at the time. So what happened?

It seems to me that this decision is yet another act of stalling by a regime that has mastered the art. The Jordan Times article, along with another one that was published on December 28th, all but announces an impending electricity price increase. So why the delay? Most likely its because the regime doesn’t want people protesting a rate increase by boycotting the election. This way the regime will be able to get through the election and avoid the hard decisions about political reform that much longer.

Where have we seen this before?

Will Bassem Awadallah Finally be Charged for Corruption?

Bassem Awadallah corruption

Jordan Times has reported that a corruption case will be announced within the next week. Could it involve Bassem Awadallah? I have heard from multiple people that he may finally be charged with corruption. The notorious former planning minister has been accused for years of stealing millions from the government.

It is worth noting that Bassem Awadallah’s father was close to the late King Hussein and Bassem is also close to King Abdullah. These rumors that Awadallah will be prosecuted come as the people have demanded that corruption in Jordan come to an end. First King Abdullah arrested Dahabi and now potentially Bassem Awadallah in an attempt to alleviate the concerns of the people regarding corruption at the highest levels of the regime.

This is not the first time that it has been said that Awadallah would be prosecuted. Indeed, reports of corruption and other indiscretions have surrounded Awadallah for some time. In March 2012, a committee investigating the privatization of the national phosphate company recommended prosecuting Bassem Awadallah along with former Prime Minister Mahrouf Bakhit, but no action was taken against him.

His personal life has also been the subject of much negative scrutiny. His home in Jordan, which is said to be valued at $4 million is one of the nation’s largest but he does not even live in it. He was reported to have severely beaten his wife of four months in 2009, leading her to file for divorce. When his mother died he held a funeral that was one of the largest in Jordan. There have also been incidents involving members of his family, including his father.

What is important to realize here is that prosecuting individuals, whether they are Mohammed Dahabi, Bassem Awadallah, or others makes little difference if the fundamental political culture remains the same. Otherwise things like this could become yet more attempts by the regime to make it appears that reform is happening while in fact nothing is going on.