A very interesting article in the New York Times today discusses briefly the unfolding road to the elections on the 20th. What I found interesting was something that I also found to be true: “liberals in Jordan have set aside demands for political freedom”, in light of rising Islamist groups in the region, particularly Hamas on the other side of the river. I think to an extent, there was a lot more rhetoric on political freedom from the liberals 2 or 3 years ago, and much of that has changed with Hamas and Hizballah in the picture, to say nothing of rising anti-Americanism with the situation in Iraq worsening.
And it’s a kind of odd question about a strange situation. If there is a genuine and legitimate fear that “free and fair” elections in Jordan would lead to the Islamic Action Front rising to political power, is it therefore necessary to “set aside demands for political freedom” given that the political situation doesn’t allow it?
In theory, there’s no point to holding elections in the first place if the government aims to control the outcome, ensuring that it runs in accordance with its ambitions.
When it comes to Islamists, I disagree with those who suggest that only Palestinians would vote for them. Islamists are generally well liked by a certain segment of society that feels the destiny of Jordan and Palestine are somewhat entwined, and those people can be either Jordanian or Palestinian. This is also a segment of society that has more faith in religion and conservative ways than they do in politicians, so the marriage of both is the only thing that drives them to the polls. Yet, candidates running primarily on a pro-Palestinian agenda (and they don’t even have to be Islamists), seem odd to me. It feels strange for anyone to run in a Jordanian election and speak solely to Palestinian issues. And yet, even more, I find myself blinded by the empty rhetoric which suggests to me that a candidate ranting “We will not give up on the right of return” can no more deliver on his promise than the candidate who speaks of Jordanian issues and rants “We will fight unemployment”.
But I digress.
The answer to the question might be a bit obvious. If the electoral law was changed and there was in fact equal representation that was proportional to district population, and if in fact the government played the elections with a laissez-faire attitude, what would the outcome be? Would we have a dominant Islamic party, neutralizing everyone else (especially since everyone is running as an independent)? Would we have a party speaking only of Palestinian issues and neglecting Jordanian ones completely?
If this is the actual fear, and it might even be a legitimate one given its regional and domestic context, is election tampering becoming a necessity? One could argue not to hold elections in the first place but that only seems to add fuel to the fire for groups like that Islamists. Elections are like a pressure valve releasing steam from a cooking pot. People become preoccupied with the process and tend to forget the outcome fairly quickly, accepting it as fate.
These are all questions whose answers are quite complex in nature. I myself don’t have a particular stance, and anyone can feel free to attempt an answer. Personally speaking, I have no love for the IAF, but then again I have no love for any other party, or the entire system as a whole. I do recognize the correlation between Palestinian affairs and their massive influence on Jordan and anyone who doesn’t is neglecting the obvious historical agents at play. I do recognize that elections, and indeed politics in general, in Jordan is merely a play, but I have always been more concerned with the long term outcome of political participation than either the process or the immediate outcome.
Anyways, the NYT piece is a pretty interesting read even though its tailored for western audiences who know nothing of Jordanian politics. But it’s worth checking out.