Jan 06 2013

824 candidat Electoral System clearly needs reform

Published by at 1:30 pm under Articles,Jordan

By Daoud Kuttab

King Abdullah’s wishes that Jordan will have three political parties (right center and left) will most certainly be dashed once he hears from the registration results independent election’s commission.  Sixty one parties and lists featuring 824 candidates (among them only 88 women) will be competing for mere 27 national seats in the 150 seat expanded 17the parliament while 698 candidates (among them 196 women) will compete for the remaining 123 local seats.

While it will take years to reach the King’s ideal of three major parties, the closed lists have introduced a system where politicians (and tribal leaders) albeit not so successful to create alliances and coalitions that can bring in the large numbers needed to win nation-wide seats.

Clearly, however, the current system needs major corrective steps (as well as time) if there is a wish that  current fiasco will not be repeated.

With a country that has not known nation wide elections, lack a tradition of political parties (with the exception of the Islamic Front) and has no public opinion polling, everyone has decided that they might as well take their chances in winning what appears to be the coveted nation wide seats.

Opening up registration to registered political parties as well as last minute created lists is obviously a mistake for a country wishing to introduce a culture of political parties. Already many were complaining about the large number of existing political parties that exceeded 30 many of whom are totally ineffective in garnering a unique and attractive political character or even organizing a proper membership drive.

Political activists knowledgeable with the absence of polling or other mechanisms for a primary style pre election process had suggested that the nominated lists be open to the voters. Instead of the ranagling and various unscrupulous deals as to who is ranked 2 or 5 in a list proponents of this idea would have had the voters pick and choose within a list rather than be forced to vote for one out of the 61 lists that will be running for the nation-wide seats.

The gender issue has also turned out to be a problem. Except for two lists that are headed by women, most of the lists have failed to place a woman in a high position.  Some countries electoral regulations forced parties to place a women every second (Tunisia) or third candidate (Palestine). Many felt that this could replace the current quota system for women. As it stands most women hope to reach the parliament using the 15 guaranteed local seats rather than compete on national wide lists.

Because there is no credible mechanism to be able to gauge how a certain candidate would do on a national lists, a dysfunctional system was  adopted. This ad hoc system in most cases decided ranking of candidates on wheeling and dealing. Some candidates were offered high rankings in return for large sums of money “contributed” to the lists campaign coffers. While it is logical to have a party’s secretary general or a lists leader as the number one candidate many are scratching their heads as to why party’s secretary who are usually effective administrators and often not charismatic leaders are listed on the number two slot.

With the exception of traditional political parties in Jordan (Pan Arabists, Baathists and Leftists) very few of the emerging 61 lists reflect a new political ideology. There doesn’t appear to be any unique political, social or economic programs that most of these lists are offering to the electorate.

The on positive exception has been the fact that many lists are placing Jordanians of Palestinian origin in high and safe positions. Whereas the large number of citizens living in urban areas and refugee camps are underrepresented in the local seat distribution, list leaders see in Jordanians of Palestinian origin a large reservoir or votes that can help them secure more candidates.

This large number of candidates and nominees plus the over two million registered citizens will most certainly weaken claims by opposition groups that there is a serious opposition movement that will be boycotting the upcoming elections.

The election season is upon us now, and as in previous years, for a month the public will be confronted on every street corner with faces of candidates and canned slogans. The fact that this year political parties and lists will be competing for citizens’ second vote has yet to be translated into a process that will educate the electorate so that they can make a wise and effective choice at the polls on election day January 23rd  2013. Whatever the outcome of the elections, the hope of many is that the new parliament will find the courage to reform the elections law in a way that learns from the current process in a way that can lead to a more effective and representative electoral process.

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