It was Albert Einstein who supposedly defined insanity as performing the same act over and over again, and expecting different results. There is perhaps no better way to describe the Jordanian electoral process, or lack there of. In recent weeks, the masses have been virtually bombarded with the same consistently constant messages of assurances from the government: this time, the elections will be different. It goes without saying that such political platitudes have become commonplace lately, largely due to the fact that there is such a tough barrier for the government to overcome: public perception.
The public perception that the parliament is not only an anemic political body, but that the entire election process that elects 100-something representatives, is, in itself, massively flawed. These perceptions are not based on assumptions but rather on-the-ground realities and a historical legacy of Jordanian elections shrouded in elements of corruption. Suffice to say, these perceptions are real, which renders the governmentâ€™s assurances a devalued currency on the street. Moreover, the recent decision by the Islamic Action Front – the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm – to boycott the elections goes a long way at not only eroding the credibility of the elections, but further altering public perceptions towards the negative, as the IAF is the only realistic government opposition and thus politically (if not religiously) represents a large segment of Jordanian society.
We should pose the obvious question: what real and tangible political development has taken place in the past three years since the last elections? Fairly little. Political parties remain underdeveloped, with lacking platforms that leave most candidates running as independents. The election law, despite recent changes to it, has maintained an electoral map rife with pockets of over- and under-representation, amidst a blur of new district lines and mass confusion regarding virtual districts. This is to say nothing of the some 600,000 expatriate Jordanians who cannot vote by absentee and thus have no say in political representation. This is to say nothing of the fact that the time frame between a candidate nominating him or herself, actually campaigning, and the inevitable voting day, is literally a matter of weeks â€“ a time frame that is not nearly enough time for any electorate to properly know their candidates and their platforms (unless of course they are related to them).
Meanwhile, socially speaking, many of the problems that have played essential roles in the electoral process not only remain, but have also, as of late, become amplified. I would safely argue that tribalism mixed with notions of nationalism, stands at higher levels today than it did three or four years ago. The schism between urban and rural – rich and poor – has grown exponentially, and educating the masses on political process has remained fairly absent.
With this in mind, it is tough to have faith in the assurances of any Jordanian government that claims it will guarantee a free and fair election â€“ a process it has been known to fiddle with in the past, for its own political gains. Moreover, with little political development and lack of genuine political reform taking place since the last election (or the one before that) – and with the same sociological, demographic and political realities that encouraged government meddling before â€“ it is very difficult to imagine the result of this election being any different.
But thatâ€™s always been the problem with elections: the emphasis has always been placed on the outcome rather than the process. In reality, for a country like Jordan, the latter matters just as much, if not more. It is the manner in which a country is able to conduct an election that speaks volumes about its political development. It is the process story that, in the end, is the best barometer of progress. Anyone can cast ballot, but the manner in which a society votes is essential to its political evolution.
If it is voting within a flawed system that induces under- and over-representation; if it is voting in a political environment that is subject to government intervention; if it is voting in a political structure that has not developed in any tangible capacity over the past decade â€“ then the political process is questionable. The process story is debatable. And the result, well, that wonâ€™t really matter too much.
This is not an attempt to articulate a message that aims at either encouraging Jordanians to vote, or discouraging from doing so. In fact, a citizen should be free to exercise what little political freedom is granted to them by the state â€“ even it is in the form of electing a lower house of parliament that has few, real political powers. This is to say nothing of the fact that, yes, some democratic values must be alive at the core of the citizenry in whatever small shape or form is allowed, because the act of voting is in fact empowering and does have the ability to shift mindsets.
However, if the state is truly and genuinely interested in seeing the results of a free election, a new story needs to be written. Not one based on assurances. Not one based on promises. But rather one that has all the required ingredients for the telling of a good story. From educating the masses while theyâ€™re still in school, to creating better political climates for better political party development, to a more democratic election law that is created through community-driven input rather than scribbled down in a matter of weeks behind closed doors, to creating true political representation, to allowing for a decent interval of time for campaigning, to allowing for all citizens to vote (wherever they may be on election day) â€“ and on, and on.
With so many ingredients missing, I might go so far as to support a postponement of the elections. Especially when we consider that this is a country that had its parliament dissolved in November, appointed a new government in December, wrote a new election law in May, and opened the doors for voter registration a few weeks later. This story reads more like a bad romantic comedy than the political process of a developing nation.
Perhaps more time should be given for a new story to be written. Otherwise, four years from now (or less, depending on how well this parliament performs this time around) â€“ we will have yet another government telling the same story, and at that point, we, the people, by Einsteinâ€™s definition, would be quite insane to think the results will be any different.
And Einstein was a pretty smart guy.