Sep 21 2016

On election day

Published by at 11:17 am under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

When Khaled Kalaldeh, the head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), spoke at the close of the day’s voting, those in attendance were stunned: “Eight voting boxes in the Central Badiya were tampered with and we plan to have a revote in those areas.”

Journalists attending the closing press conference of a long day on September 20 were not used to such transparency and decisiveness. In previous elections, such issues were never talked about from such an authoritative position, and no one remembers a decision on election night to have a revote anywhere in the Kingdom.

The IEC along with the Constitutional Court and the right to assemble (without the need of prior permission) were among the accomplishments of the reform process in Jordan.

The Constitutional Court has not performed very well and the right of assembly without prior permission is being eroded, but the election commission appears to have fulfilled the aspirations of Jordanians who wanted a body separate from the executive branch to oversee elections and ensure that the process is carried out independently. 

This success will take some time to absorb.

Jordanians are still sceptical of the true independence of elections, as they remember vividly how previous elections were fixed.

That earlier elections were controlled is not a rumour discussed in closed circles, but a fact that a number of former Jordanian officials talked about. 

One head of the intelligence even boasted that he handpicked some 80 members of Parliament that were technically elected.

This scepticism is translated into apathy in high proportions.

Depending on whether one counts Jordanians abroad or not, the voter turnout for the 18th Parliament is anywhere around 38 per cent or, if Jordanians abroad are not counted, still under 50 per cent.

Young people, who form the majority of the Jordanian population, are among the highest percentages of voters who showed apathy towards the voting process.

The fact that the election commission has tried its best to act independently does not lessen criticism of the new Elections Law or the fact that every election cycle Jordanians are being asked to vote using a different law.

It is true that the current law is an improvement over the tribal-biased one-person, one-vote that has dominated the electoral culture in Jordan for decades.

The open proportional lists forced individuals and groups to create coalitions, but such efforts have largely ended up in superficial lists that are based on temporary interests rather than strong ideological programmes.

Without a serious effort to create strong parties that adhere to clear programmes and build themselves from the bottom up, the electoral process will continue to be confusing.

Of course, the current law that bans political organisation in universities and institutions of higher learning has disenfranchised what could be the most important sector in society.

Kalaldeh, who came to the IEC from the Political Development Ministry and who was a left-wing activist calling for reform, has helped restore public confidence in the election commission.

The head of the commission, who was the architect of this Elections Law, was able to explain it to a public that was, and continues to be, confused about how it works and, most importantly, how the results are calculated and translated into seats in the 18th Parliament.

Local monitors and a small but quickly maturing civil society also contributed to the success of the current electoral cycle.

Experienced NGOs such as Rased and the Nazaha Coalition have been able to train thousands of volunteers and to regularly update the local and international community with important reports and election day observations. These reports, which have been circulated and distributed by local media, aimed to help strengthen the attempts to convince a reluctant Jordanian public of the independence of the current elections.

International donors working with local NGOs have also tried to fill this gap by educating the public using various communication tools.

These NGOs have provided continuous community media coverage throughout the Kingdom, produced important audio/visual material and addressed important issues, like the need to bring in disenfranchised sectors of society such as youth, women, the disabled and those living far away from the centre of the country.

International observers who came from the US and Europe and were able to work freely provided a further level of oversight that completed the circle of impartial voting.

Two more elections are slated for next year:  municipal and decentralisation elections.

These upcoming elections will test whether the independence we have seen in the current election cycle is a fluke or we are actually witnessing a progressive election process that is here to stay.

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