Jan 31 2013
Following appeared in Jordan times.
By Daoud Kuttab
Even before a single vote was counted and results announced, it was clear who were the main winners and losers. And for the most part, they were not the candidates.
The biggest winner in the Jordanian legislative elections was the state. It bargained on the public and the international community ignoring the absence of the Islamists in the elections.
Conversely, the Islamic Action Front and some of the small secular parties that joined the boycotters are the biggest losers. By calling for a boycott without being able to make it the main story of the elections, the Islamists overreached and failed.
Anywhere in the world, there will be a large percentage of people who refuse to participate in elections for a variety of reasons.
In the case of Jordan, those boycotting the elections will have a problem convincing the local and international public that the boycott actually worked.
The government’s success in getting nearly 2.5 million Jordanians to register means that this number will become the basis for the final percentage of voters, rather than using the qualified voter list as the basis by which the percentage of participation is calculated.
Furthermore, in most cases, it is easy to blame the absence of participation in elections on apathy and laziness, rather than on a determined boycott. An attempt to get Jordanians to register and then cast a blank ballot failed to gain traction and, therefore, there will be no actual way of calculating whether the boycott of the Islamists worked or not.
A major winner in this election season is the Independent Elections Commission, along with local and international observers. The commission has been transparent and clear in its mission, and has performed well, setting up in record time a structure and eliciting respect.
The autonomy of the commission meant that local and international observers were welcomed and encouraged to be present, gaining accreditation and carrying out their efforts freely. Similarly, the civil society, especially the RASED coalition of local NGOs, can be considered a winner of the process of monitoring and reporting on the elections.
Independent media in Jordan were able to effect a second level of monitoring the electoral process. The transparency of the spokesman of the election commission and the efforts of local media outlets provided an opportunity for the media to act as a watchdog holding the electoral process accountable.
Overall, Jordan succeeded in passing the test of an electoral process that many doubted it could pass. However, the success of having held open and transparent elections should not blind the government to the fact that an important sector of society consciously avoided participating in the process.
Having won the current round with the Islamists should not give the other political actors an exaggerated sense of power and strength. The most important goal in the coming months or years will be to heal the divide that exists in the country, even if that may have been overlooked in the existing Elections Law.
Similarly, the Islamists must recognise that they have overreached with their demands and show willingness to reach compromises that will allow for the nation to heal the political wounds of the last two years.
Those looking for signs of national unity will be looking at what the 17th Parliament in Jordan will do about the Elections Law and any constitutional changes that might be necessary to produce the desired results.
Naturally, most MPs will not be too quick in changing the Elections Law that brought them to power, knowing that the approval of an amended law might shorten the life of their parliamentary life.
The elections exposed a number of problems, most prominently the absence of a tradition of political parties. The exaggerated number of lists that ran for a small number of seats showed that the country needs to work harder on developing unique programmes and ideologies.
One idea might be to limit the voting on national lists to registered parties, rather than have lists created on the eve of the elections.
Some argued that a political party tradition requires a few rounds like this one in order for citizens to freely choose the groups they feel comfortable with, and then a party system will start taking root.
These elections also brought attention to a number of issues that are keeping Jordan from moving ahead on the issue of reform. Changes should not be limited to the legislative and administrative powers, but also to cultural issues.
The vote-buying scandals continued even on election day despite the arrest of a number of prominent candidates, which reflects a cultural problem that cannot be dealt with only by law, but must include deeper societal changes.
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