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.