Since my blog went down for 11 days right after the elections, I never really got to voice my opinion on the topic. In fact, so much happened that without my ordinary outlet for ranting, I was left to bother family, friends and co-workers instead (my apologies to them all). But better late than never, and in any case, with the elections being long gone now, I have the benefit of looking at the events in a retrospective manner.
First of all, my general feelings about the way the elections were carried out were pretty much articulated in my opinion piece for Jordan Business this month entitled How To Rig An Election (word doc), so I won’t repeat myself there. It’s a view I’ve held for awhile now, and have written about it on the Black Iris before. What I didn’t get to talk about were the results of two important political entities: women and the Islamic Action Front. Warning: the rest of this post is quite lengthy.
As most know by now, voter turnout for women candidates was pretty disastrous. Amman’s third district candidate, Samar Haj Hassan, garnered the most votes (correct me if I’m wrong) in her district (over 2,000), and even that wasn’t enough to win her a seat under the dome. In the entire country, only one woman, Falak Jamaani of Madaba, managed to win on her own merit (and congrats to her), while the rest were selected through the quota system. It’s kind of like picking the winners from the losers.
In reality, as I’ve argued a thousand times before, the women’s quota will erode away any perceptions people have when it comes to voting for women. Heck, if women alone voted for female candidates that would be enough to get them a seat. But they didn’t. What has changed in the past 4 years since the last elections was that many of those running made it abundantly clear that they were doing so under the women’s quota. I read many banners that had the words “women’s quota” scrawled on them, matching those of candidates who ran for “Christian seats”.
This reflects a bit of confusion as to the purpose of the quota. The quota is a temporary system initially designed to encourage women to run and to encourage people to vote for them. It has so far succeeded in the former and failed in the latter. Moreover, its success in the former has only meant the encouraging of women who just want the gig for the money and position, who now feel they have a better chance of getting that. This conclusion is based purely on observation and the fact that while many women I saw running actually had political ambitions, many of them (if not most) didn’t even campaign. They had posters and banners printed up, but they were no where to be seen. This is also true of many male candidates as well, both probably feeling they would depend on family and friends.
But to go back, the system is an initiative that is completely different from allocated seats for minority groups such as Christians and Sharkas (Circassians) that are in place to ensure permanent representation. This is also true of upper military positions for both groups. Also, when it comes to these two groups, most Jordanians who are of those two groups will often feel compelled to vote for them. In other words, if I am a Christian, I will usually feel compelled to vote for a Christian candidate because there is something that ties me to him or her (in this case religion). This is only natural. To say nothing of the fact that in Jordan, minorities tend to populate certain areas, so the likelihood of someone voting for a candidate with the same religion or ethnic background (or even name) is obviously high. The same cannot be said of women, whose constituency is much broader, and most women do not feel compelled to vote for a fellow woman. In fact, I believe most women voted for men in this election if I recall one article correctly.
The point is, if there is a woman who wants to run for parliament, she should at the very least pretend that there is no quota system. Printing banners stating clearly that she’s running for the quota seat only reinforces the idea that there is no need to vote for someone who doesn’t necessarily need your vote to win. Moreover, I’m actually against anyone running under the guise of an allocated seat, be they Christian, Sharkasi, or a woman. In lieu of political parties, people should run as political national candidates and win as such. They should speak to the broader constituency to bring everyone into the fold, without limiting their pandering to a specific religion, ethnicity or gender.
The Islamists. After months of the government’s constant political attacks and demonizing of the party, and the party’s terrible campaigning and media foul ups, the IAF won very few seats in the elections. Was their foul play involved? Of course. An Islamic party, which happens to be the largest party and only valid opposition party; a party that has historically been popular and I would argue has grown more popular in recent years in the regional political context of Hamas and Hizballah; this party ends up with less than half the seats it occupied only 4 years ago? Something is amiss here. IAF rallies throughout November brought together so many supporters it was surprising they didn’t get every seat for the 22 candidates they put in the field.
What makes this conclusion all the more valid is that right after votes were “counted”, articles and headlines all made sure to mention the erosion of Islamist power in Jordan; a message that was surely intended to be received by both the Jordanian masses and our western friends.
So as if the Lower House wasn’t irrelevant enough, it has now been further weakened by the now barely audible voice of the country’s only opposition. And I say this while being no fan of the IAF.
Corruption and fraud aside, I think the biggest problem (of the many) remains the fact that voters are still tribe-oriented, which remains largely due to the lagging development of political parties. I think another large problem remains the fact that the one-man one-vote system and gerrymandering of seats is designed to make geography and demographics important where they shouldn’t be. Without solving these two major problems first, then voter fraud is insignificant for me. In other words, what’s the point of talking about corruption of an electoral system that is unjust to begin with?