It’s been three weeks since I started attending the World Affairs Council meetings, and it’s safe to say I’ve grown a bit attached to the place. The first meet saw the discussion of the Annapolis summit, while the second was about domestic energy. This week was probably everyone’s favorite topic these days: the elections. So here’s a rundown of the mental notes I took while people were speaking.
An argument was made that many of those running have no political or even social record. This of course is true. A parliament seat has meant that many people get to massage their egos, be in the public eye, get a car, a driver, a nice salary and retirement. I think the last factor was very interesting since parliamentarians in the past didn’t used to get retirement plans such as those today, and in an expensive country where everyone’s future is uncertain, so this may be a bigger motivational force that has lead to the current surge of candidates running than we think.
There was a great deal of focus on the current electoral law that stipulates a one-man one-vote voting system as well as the general geographical misrepresentation that can be safely defined as gerrymandering at its best. The question of changing the law and reforming the system, to make it a fair distribution, would lead to an Islamist surge was also brought up. Some argued (correctly in my opinion) that should the system be reformed and everything made equal, the IAF would not win more than 30 seats in the Parliament. Moreover, the government has had a recent history of demonizing the IAF in an attempt to inspire fear in the electorate, but in fact they are just making them out to be something bigger than they really are. The idea here is that if this anti-IAF campaign continues, it will lead to a split in the country and the better solution is for the government to bring the party in to the political fold.
From there, the discussion lead to arguments concerning political parties in the country. Briefly, as most already know, the country has suffered from a lack of development when it comes to political parties.
Now here is where some interesting points came about and these are some of the odd ones:
– The government should give 2 million JDs to political parties, funding them and strengthening them, helping them campaign, etc. I personally found the suggestion of a government funding political parties to be a bit unconventional and frankly a little bit absurd. I think it was Laurice Hlass who rightly pointed out that a government funding a political party means the party is in the pockets of the government. Even in the best case scenario where that isn’t true, there is still that social perception.
– Governments never last long enough to do anything positive. Moreover, Ministers are bogged down with paper work and ceremonial processions that have them avoiding getting any real work done. Thus the suggestion was made that a King-appointed council be created to carry out the National Agenda while the governments that come and go merely tend to the ceremonies. This person also argued that Bakhit was one of the best Prime Ministers in Jordan and previously argued that Rice was the best Secretary of State since Baker. Nuff said? No? Well suffice to say, I don’t think a parallel political system has ever functioned well in human history and I think many would agree with that.
– The last point was one of the things I found to be most interesting about this session. One of the reasons political parties are not functioning well is because the youth are not interested in politics. They are not interested in joining political parties. They have been warned by their parents from an early age that politics should be avoided as should political parties. There is also the fear that the government’s encouragement of the youth to join these parties is a trap; a way for the government to get all the members in one room and then whisk them off to the big house.
These statements were said in a way that suggested such beliefs were silly and thus they instantaneously elicited everyone in the room to laugh.
But to me, I found it to be absolutely true and a serious concern when considering the future.
These perceptions are well alive in our youth. Most of them ARE interested in politics but they have been socially constructed to fear politics on a public stage or in a public context. As for the government’s encouragement being a trap. Based on the stories our fathers tell us from their own experiences, and based on Jordan’s history, such an assumption is not far fetched at all. How much has really changed in the past half century in the way the government approaches politics? In its context, many things have improved and there are undoubtedly more freedoms comparatively. But the state is still very controlling and political dissidents are still jailed, and parties and their members are still targets. So to someone in their 20’s that’s been raised to believe politics will get you into trouble, where’s the incentive to join a political party?
How does this person, who has his or her whole life in front of them, guarantee their personal safety? Where is the track record? Where is the precedent? Whose to say 20 years from now when I’m in my 40’s, what I said or believed years ago, what beliefs I voiced at a party rally won’t be held against me?
None, is the answer. As I’ve argued before, the government has simply “pushed” for the youth to participate, and has remained bumfuzzled as to why they haven’t. No moves have been made, no measures have been taken, no precedent has been set, no indicators are on the ground that suggest to our youth, to me, to us, that this is a process worth engaging in and will come at no personal cost as it did with our fathers and/or grandfathers.
And that, was another cup of coffee at the salon il-seyasi.