I have no intention of writing anything about the actual results as it would likely take me the better part of a week to write it up. Much of the political theater that unfolded throughout the campaign process will now shift to an even more prominent stage, with a pro-government, fairly tribal, loyalist legislative body that will offer little-to-no opposition to government policies. If anything, the state now has a seal of approval of the people to be used at will. To be honest, with all the media commentary offering post-election analysis, I don’t think anyone summed up the entire experience for me like Emad Hajjaj with this caricature:
So, I will not discuss the continued failure of the quota system, the missing political opposition parties, the empowered sense of tribalism under the dome, the electronic blackouts on election day, the violence, the (real) numbers, the failure of the virtual districts and subsequently the new elections law, the vote buying, or the lack of political parties represented in the new parliament.
It is even difficult to determine the extent to which the government carried out the elections responsibly and/or fairly considering that the government itself carried them out as opposed to establishing an independent arm’s’-length body to do so as is common, and simply the fact that with the Islamist boycott (and that of others) there was no significant political opposition at the polls that required the state’s intervention, as was the case in 2007, and so on.
The fourth estate’s headlines all read: “pro-government” and “loyalists” – perhaps a fair conclusion that one can easily glean from the results in names, numbers and territories. There were actually more former ministers elected than there were political party members.
But when all is said and done, one has to wonder what all of this was for. And with that, I resort to asking more questions than providing answers.
Was the elections conducted in order to create and/or maintain the presence of meaningful representation? A body of government that is chosen by the people in order to represent the people?
If so, how much of that was achieved? Does the current 120-body legislature represent the people? And even if they did, what true legislative powers do they have? With no agenda or platforms to promote, no political party politics to put forward, the lower house remains a small body of the government where its members simply say yes or no to whatever laws the appointed government wants to pass. Much of this process is done with just as much public debate as the government’s passing of temporary laws, written and approved behind closed doors.
With the new election law in place, to what extent have we seen real and meaningful representation for all Jordanians in this body? What has the one-vote system achieved for the development of parties when the voter must give his one vote to one person, and that person is usually a relative? What have virtual districts done for the over-representation of rural districts and the under-representation of more urban centers like Amman (where voter turnout was one of the lowest despite it being the most populated city)? Are we expecting parliament to now review, amend, or turn down the very law that voted them in? Will the dozens of temporary laws issued by the government in the past year (in the absence of a parliament) be reviewed by these elected officials?
Will this parliament, or even the state for that matter, begin to prepare for the next elections by raising political awareness, developing political parties, changing the voting system to one more suitable for political development in Jordan that yields more meaningful representation?
In the midst of all these questions that we need to be asking ourselves, the one interesting reality I can highlight is the economics of these elections. Putting politics aside, Jordan’s economic situation has, to put it kindly, not been great as of late. The masses are obviously frustrated and little has been done to alleviate much of what ails the average person’s financial situation besides half-measured state subsidized items and initiatives (e.g. decent housing). However, the nature of Jordanian elections does induce and present economic opportunities. To begin with, candidates, most of who run independently, spend tens of thousands of dinars on their campaigns. Many of the tents cost 1,000JDs to rent every night, and most were up for a good 30 days. This is to say nothing of food, transportation, chair rentals, and of course, designing and printing a zillion posters.
The campaign season, however short, likely contributed to the economy in ways I am unable to dare measure. From expenditure on advertisements in Amman’s third districts, to the transportation of citizens to and from election tents in Karak (a relative of mine who owns a small coaster bus made around 4,000JDs during the month). Printers seemed to print everything from posters to banners to business cards to leaflets to CDs to just about any kind of material one can think of – and by the bulk. People were mobilized by campaigns and given cash salaries to promote the candidate far and wide, even on the steps of mosques and at the doors of polling stations on the day of. Suffice to say, it’s good to know many ordinary citizens found ways to make a decent amount of money during the season, just ahead of the Eid holiday when it’s needed most. And this is not to mention the vote buying that took place, with quotations as high as 150JDs per vote.
With party politics, one can perhaps comprehend the expenditure as finances are fund-raised by the party and distributed to candidates that they field in the elections. However, when an independent candidate spends upwards of 100,000JDs in a single month of electioneering, one can only help but wonder where the money is coming from. More importantly, what do they get in return for spending so much besides a salary and health care? Is it worth it?
Based on the last account of salary raises the parliament gave itself, members of parliament receive roughly 4,500JDs a month, which is unheard of in Jordan unless you’re a bank manager. With 120 members now in parliament, this amounts to roughly 540,000JDs a month, or 6,480,000 a year, or 25,920,000 for the entire 4 year term. (if someone has better numbers than these, feel free to share and correct me). So perhaps it is worth it. And these are only the visible finances, as one can safely assume that many members of parliament capitalize on their positions in very invisible ways.
Thus for me, while questions about what will become of the 16th parliament are important in the long-run, I am forced to ask myself the most cliche of questions in the Arab world: min ayna laka hatha?
From where did you get all this money?
Perhaps the first thing on the parliament’s agenda should be finance reform. The people need to know where this money is coming from, and more importantly, what is off-setting the cost of running for an election?
And with none of these questions being asked by the media, what is perhaps the most disappointing thing about the entire elections process in this country is the failure of media.