Sep 01 2016

An ill-advised act

Published by at 10:46 am under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

Election season is a time for ideas, initiatives and actions. It is also a real test for the commitment of a state to democracy.

This week, this democratic test met a challenge and the result was not very good.

A group of young Jordanians decided to hold an election-awareness event. They rented a public location in Jabal Luweibdeh, contacted a number of election experts, including a woman member of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and announced the event on Facebook.

As per the amended Jordanian Constitution, they informed the Amman governor of their public event 48 hours before it was due to start.

Three and a half hours before the launch of the Hiwar lil tagheer (dialogue for change) the governor of Amman called the owners of Sakyat Al Darawish, its intended location, and informed him that the event is not allowed to take place.

The young organisers panicked slightly, but soon contacted a local radio station that agreed to accommodate the invited speakers and guests. 

All speakers, including the commissioner from the IEC, agreed to make a last-second change and the event went live on air, but the government intervention left a bad taste.

No one was told about the reason for the abrupt decision. When the governor was contacted, he said the commission should be asked for the reason. Khaled Kalaldeh, the chief commissioner of the IEC, had no idea why the event was cancelled.

Other debates and events are up in the air now. A series of debates that were planned for this weekend have not yet received the green light, and the organisers are not sure whether they will take place or not.

The Jordanian law is clear. No permission is needed for a public event. But the unwritten law, which seems to be taking precedence over the written law, tells a different story.

It is not clear what is going on, whether there is a struggle among different power centres or simply the Ministry of Interior is trying to assert its authority as the final arbiter in giving approval for public events.

Tampering with election-related public events taints the image of any democracy.

At a time when elections are a great opportunity to showcase tolerance and support for various ideas and initiatives, the decision to ban public events without a clear reason does a lot of damage to the efforts of the IEC.

Speaking on the radio station, Samar Haj Hassan, one of the IEC commissioners, said that she had insisted on changing the venue to assure the public of the commission’s commitment to hold truly independent elections.

Young Jordanians represent the majority of the population. Early polling showed a high percentage of apathetic young Jordanians, precisely because of their lack of faith in the government’s willingness and commitment to the democratic process.

As one of the speakers, lawyer Omar Attot, said during the radio debate, the cancellation of the public event reflects exactly what is wrong with the government’s attitude towards the democratic process.

The young Jordanians who organised the event were acting voluntarily, in the spirit of the elections, but they were disappointed.

Instead of continuing such initiatives that educate the public on issues related to elections, this act has demoralised and demotivated them.

The act against young Jordanians with a moderate political outlook was ill-advised.

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