We’ve been given a sneak peek at The National Agenda which is to be published in 2 weeks, and it concerns the elections process; one of the issues the National Agenda Committee (NAC) has not reached a consensus on according to a Jordan Times article. Here’s what it says:
The first proposal suggests a “mixed voting system,” which grants citizens two votes: One for a district candidate, and one for a proportional list, which means a party list or that of several individuals who work under one platform. The second recommends granting citizens a single ballot or a preferential vote, through which a voter must choose between electing a district candidate or the proportional list. However, Muasher said the committee was in total agreement on the end-goal of the Elections Law, which is to have a Lower House entirely elected on the basis of proportional lists. The Elections Law has maintained the one-person, one-vote system since it was enacted in 1993.
Proportional Representation (PR) has been around for less than a century and it’s actually an interesting idea. Traditionally you have canidates who run in a district. People vote for whatever canidate they like and the canidate with the most votes will win and therefore rule. So basically if I win 51% then I’m in. But what happens to the other 49% who now feel under represented, these guys didn’t vote for me. What PR suggests is that you devide a district into seats and have a few members run from every party to gain seats and therefore get a more fair representation going.
So if in Amman (for simplicity sake) there are 20 seats for grabs you will have canidates running from say 2 different parties. So if you ran for elections you alone dont have to get 51% of the vote. What it means is that you and several other canidates from your party will run, you will all eventually get voted for and then at the end of the night they get together and add up what each person got. So if all together you and your party peers manage to get 50% of the vote in Amman, then you’ve secured 10 seats in the 20 seat district and the other party gets the other 50% obviously. If you get 75% then you get 15 seats and so on.
This ensures (in theory) that every voter’s vote actually counts as far as representation goes. Of course if the party you voted for gets less than half the seats then it may not fair well in terms of political leverage and power but its better than having the other guys rule without a single voice of opposition in a district.
Now what the NAC is suggesting is a party list form of proportional representation. This essentially means that each party will put a number of canidates on the ballot that equal to the exact number of seats available in that district. So if there are 20 seats in Amman then each party will submit 20 names. Hence if there are 3 parties running that district, then the ballot will carry a total of 60 names in 3 coloumns. The voter then votes for the canidates and/or their respective parties.
That being said… I think Proportional Representation is a good idea in theory because it forces the tribe-oriented Jordanian to think in terms of party and not tribe; hence politics and not family, platform and not name. Though there are some major disadvantages to consider. Will parties become family oriented? So when I look at my ballot and see 3 family members in one party I will vote for them in that district? Keep in mind there are roughly 30 to 40 political parties of which HM King Abdullah wants to see whittled down to 3. So if the the Ba’ath progressive and Ba’ath socialist and the communists merge will we simply have a pool of 3 families in one party. On the other hand many of the tribes are area oriented. Southerners live in the south and Northerners in the north. So technically they do have a right to vote for family members as (a) they are the only ones available in the area and (b) they are obviously going to elect someone from their own district to represent them.
This is a very important factor I think simply because the stronger the family the more inclined they are to vote inorder to strengthen their voice in parliament, especially the tribes. Consider that in the last elections about 85% of voters in Kerak showed up compared to 50% in Amman. The tribes are enough to get the PR system going and their historic bickering means the chances of them ever coming together to vote for one party and have a monopolized representation in a single district are slim to none.
PR system also suggest a rearranging of seats. How do you make the number of seats for each district fair if you are forced to factor in population and demographics? If you disadvantage the south where the tribes are then you force them to come together out of necessity and monopolize representation overall. I think this is why I kind of ‘admire’ the Islamic party, because by far it’s the only real political party in Jordan that functions with the full meaning of the word "party" (and another word: platform). People actually vote for the IAF beacuse religion carries more weight than a family name. Especially in Amman.
Anyways we’ll have to wait and see what the National Agenda looks like in a few weeks. All of these things are dependent on a whole lot of other things such as changing archiac social perceptions and getting parties to sit down and merge/unite/squeeze into a group of 3. We are along way from that and it’ll take a lot longer than any 10-year plan the NAC can come up with. Though you have to start somewhere and there’s no better place than the present.