In Jordan’s Elections, Citizens’ Distrust is the Winner
Less than 30% of Jordanian eligible voters casted their ballots in the parliamentary elections of 10 November. As predicted, the low turnout confirms the failure of an election celebrated in a bad timing and which deepens the institutional crisis that the country is living in. Despite authorities praising the way in which the ballot was conducted, the aftermath has left very negative results. Post-electoral violence, massive gatherings, denounces of voter tampering by some candidates and a very low representation of women seem to give reason to those that called to postpone the elections to avoid this result.
Low Participation and Negative Trends
1.3 million Jordanians out of 4.6 million of eligible voters casted their ballots on the elections, which makes up just 29.9% of the electorate. A very low number even though the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) extended voting hours until 9pm. As predicted by experts, many citizens did not vote due to fears of coronavirus increasing number of cases and lack of trust in the Parliament and the political process.
This low turnout, however, has been more pronounced among women. For the first time, the percentage of female voters is lower than that of males, just reaching 25.7 of the total number of voters. This has resulted in a decrease of the number of women winning a seat in the parliament, with female candidates securing just the 15 seats allocated by the quota, despite more female candidates run this time than ever before.
The lowest participation was registered in Amman Third district, with 11.66%, while the highest voter turnout was in Southern Badia, with 65.74%, confirming again the usual voting patterns and reaffirming the transactional character of the elections as a market for selling favours and buying allegiances.
According to the IEC, the elections saw a record participation from youth between 17 to 30 years, that is, 9.7% of the total voters. However, considering that youth aged 15-30 make up 28.5% of the population, figures do not point out that youth is becoming a force of change in the political arena. In fact, the IEC blamed young people participation for the weakened party presence since 10% of the winners were under 40. What this means is that political parties do not offer space for young people to participate in political life neither appeal to a young electorate.
All in all, the number of voters is almost the same as in previous elections, even if the turnout is lower. Voting figures until 2013 cannot be compared due to a different system of countering eligible voters. The introduction of automatic voter registration in 2016 pushed the number of registered voters from 2.2 million to 4, resulting in a lower turnout in 2016 even if the number of voters was higher. If the new system was adjusted to 2013, voter participation in that election would have been 31% instead of 56.6%. Hence, 2020 figures do not look that bad considering the health and political situation. In any case, they seem to confirm the growing apathy of Jordanians for political institutions which they perceive as unable to carry out their mission and deliver results to the citizens.
Contested Results and Post-Electoral Violence
Elections were praised by different local and international organizations observing the ballot. However, the aftermath of the elections has been plagued by complaints of voter tampering and impersonation. The IEC confirmed that 13 individuals were referred for alleged voter impersonation while social media videos showcased cases of voters being physically threatened by candidates’ supporters if they did not change their intended votes or allegedly uncounted ballots.
Former MP Rola Al-Hroub announced her intention of going to court to contest the result of the elections, claiming to have physical evidence that the number of votes she received is double than the official number. Three other candidates have been referred to public prosecution by the IEC on impersonation charges for the first time in the history of parliamentary elections in Jordan. The elections have witnessed more vote-buying than the previous ones, with some candidates spending millions in vote-buying and not having success in securing a seat. Voter-buying has been exacerbated by the dire economic situation the country is living. According to a survey carried out by Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights, 102 laborers declared to be selling their vote due the losses of wages and work caused by the lockdown.
The post-election has also left some worrying images of violence in different parts of the country. Despite a four-day lockdown declared all over the country on the night of the elections, supporters of different candidates took to the streets to celebrate their victories or to show their discontent in the case of the losers.
Dozens of videos have circulated in social media where supporters drove vehicles, fired live ammunition, and fought with rival candidates’ supporters. In Mafraq, a municipal building was set on fire, and in other areas such as Shafa Badran of Jabal Nasser, in Amman, the police had to intervene to appease rioters. Besides, nine MPs have been summoned for investigation regarding lockdown violations. All of this has resulted in the resignation of the Interior Minister, Tawfiq al-Halalmah, on 12 November, after just one month in office.
The above-mentioned developments confirm the pure transactional character of the elections, where the only benefited are the elected candidates and their close supporters. For the majority of Jordanians, their impact is almost null.
What to Expect from the 19th Parliament?
100 of the 130 elected members are new to the Parliament. Although new faces can be a positive development, there are many who question their credentials and what they can contribute to the political debate since most of them lack previous political experience. Just 16% of the elected MPs belong to political parties, which hinders even more the possibility of forming blocs. Since most of elected MPs are independent and worried about paying tribute to their constituencies, the results are mainly a cosmetic change with few possibilities of strengthening the institution’s role.
The new parliament will face the difficult mission of recovering citizen trust on the institution. Considering people apathy and even opposition towards the celebration of the election and the incidents occurred afterwards, it is not going to be easy. Growing populism and the lack of big ideological umbrellas offering cohesive programs and alternatives for the country’s governance hamper the Parliament’s impact in the country’s decision-making.
But the confidence in the Parliament will solely be recovered by giving meaning to its role. The continuation of emergency laws as the preferred tool to navigate the current crisis only contributes to weaken even more an already discredited institution. The elections give a valuable lesson to the Jordanian political establishment: temporary parchments cannot suffice if they are not accompanied by a real commitment to reform.