The Unfolding Of The 2010 Jordanian Elections Thus Far

To say it has been interesting to watch the Jordanian election season begin to unfold these past few days would be the understatement of the year. The unraveling of absurdities has been a fantastic spectacle to observe, to say the very least. The streets of the country’s cities are littered with posters showcasing familiar names, slogans, ambitions, to say nothing of familiar attempts to undermine the intelligence of the average Jordanian. Elections tents are propped up on empty plots of land in every district – and for those readers who are unaware, these are indeed, actual tents. From the streets at night, you can hear speaker blare their absurdities in to the microphone of a treble-laced speaker: ten-word slogans concise enough to be absorbed by any passerby, and especially for those who dare to walk in and have a seat under the big top just to watch the circus act.

Party politics is all but absent, which means there are no party platforms. Instead, every candidate is running independently, which means their political agenda is less of a platform and more of a series of beliefs or opinions on various matters that range from taxes to Palestine. In other words, pretty much every candidate believes in the same thing as everyone else that’s running in their district. Even candidates from the Islamic Action Front – the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm in Jordan – are running as independents while their party boycotts the election. They are currently being tried by their party, with their membership in the Brotherhood at risk.

In the past two weeks, since the tents went up and the posters and banners littered our streets (the only sign that elections are taking place), the most frequently asked question in the public sphere seems to be: are you voting?

This question wasn’t asked as frequently a few years back, but this time, things are different. Not only is there a boycott by the only political party (and parties) that represent any form of political opposition to the government, but there is precedent. A 2007 election that was marred in voter fraud, both on a societal and government level. The parliament voted in was so disliked from the start that it spent most of its two-year tenure under the shadow of corruption allegations, only to be finally dissolved by HM King Abdullah, much to the joy and appreciation of most Jordanians.

Today, some of those same candidates are running once again and with similar force and gusto. Some are even using the exact same election posters they used in 2007. So if there was ever any tangible example of how things have not changed – there it is.

Thus, it goes without saying, the most frequent answer to that lingering question is: no. No, we will not be voting. And everyone has a reason. For many, there is complete disinterest and/or apathy. A generation completely disconnected with the political discourse of their country and raised to be that way by their environment. For others, there are valid reasons akin to the aforementioned: nothing has changed. Same candidates, same approaches, same system of governance, same lack of political reform, same absence of parties, same sense of nepotism, same sense of district and electoral favoritism, same everything. It is interesting to note the extent to which the 2007 elections impacted this specific group of non-voters who have lost confidence in the state’s ability and willingness to hold a true and free democratic election. They’ve been burned too many times to put their hand back in the fire again.

And then of course there’s a big chunk of people who could not vote if they wanted to, simply because they did not bother to go through the confusing registration process back in July.

Outside Amman, elections remain as tribal as ever. Families battle it out in each district, but the last name rules all. The fielded candidate is the tribe’s agreed-upon choice for representation. It might as well just be an appointment. No need to waste people’s time with actual voting. And these are the people who will outnumber all others in seat allocations within the parliament.

As for woman: while the numbers of candidates seem to have increased, a noticeable decrease in their overall presence can be observed. Even the posters that line the streets of Amman – if any measure of an election campaign (and they are) – are quite testosterone driven, with few woman posters to be seen.

And in the midst of all this is a seemingly growing grassroots movement to boycott the elections. Around 35 so-called Islamist students were arrested on campus for allegedly calling and/or encouraging a boycott, which, according to Jordan’s election law, is illegal.

The government has pushed its own campaigns to encourage voters, including the purple-laden posters and advertisements of “Same3na Sowtak” (let us hear your voice) and the anti-voter fraud posters of cartoon characters taking bribes. Neither of these campaigns have resonated well with the general public. Instead, more organic organizations are popping up, such as the “Mu8ade3oon Min Ajil il-Taghyeer” (boycotters for change). Unfortunately, 18 of the organization’s members were arrested last Saturday after trying to hold a small rally near the Prime Minister’s office. In short, the state wants everyone to let their voice be heard, just as long as they don’t say anything in opposition. This contradiction is also quite visible with the use of mosques as an electoral tool, with boycotting now considered to be a major sin.

So far, all signs are indicating that these elections will be no different than 2007.

It is astounding to think that in the actual political context of all this, what is being elected at the end of the day is a small and increasingly insignificant body of government that occupies a single corner of the legislative branch. The parliament – the lower house of parliament to be exact – is indeed elected by the people (in accordance to the faulty process described above) but it is one half of legislative body, with the upper house – the senate – being appointed by the King, and is stacked with former ministers (it is the official political retirement home for ex-prime ministers). Thus half are appointed, half are elected, and both, as a single body, must square off against an entire system that is all-together appointed. From the Royal Court to whatever cabinet is in season, the legislative process is created, shaped, approved and carried out by an appointed government. The lower house’s only role has been unofficially reduced to approving proposed legislation as a show of consensus by the representatives of the people – a role that has grown increasingly official with the isolation, marginalization and co-option of any opposition groups that get in the way.

That is the bird’s eye view of what role these elected officials can hope to play. And with the electoral process that votes them in, as well as the aforementioned elements at play safely in mind – one expect little change.

I would love to end with a bit more optimism, perhaps even an attempt to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness – but I’m choosing to do neither. When you don’t control the light switch, there is little you can do beyond mere observation and commentary of the status quo. And that’s exactly what this is.

As I said before, the most important aspect of this election is the process story: how a people, a government and a nation conduct a democratic election. The outcome remains rather insignificant in light of the political circumstances.


  • You may not control the light switch, but you are connected to the source of electricity, which is the process story. Hang in there, even by reporting the story you are lighting a candle.

  • “Party politics is all but absent, which means there are no party platforms”
    15 political parties are participating (out of 18 in the country) with 110 candidates and some party members are running independently to benefit from their strong tribal platforms.

  • @maha: can you offer us a link to that information. for as far as i know, there are 14 official political parties according to the last count – not 18. and these are in reference to parties that are not less than a year old and created and run by government operatives whose last names start with an “m” and end in “ajali”.

    some are running under allied tickets, most candidates have been fielded as independents.

    i should also point out that 110 candidates from political parties is an insignificant number in the overall market of registered candidates, which i think is over a thousand now.

  • Sho thousand! man you should at least know that number or look it up.There are 853 candidates total, some candidates who are under a party platform are independent in their funding.
    there are scattered numbers in different newspapers\2010\10\10-18\964.htm&dismode=x&ts=18-10-2010%207:12:58

    مالو حزب التيار الوطني they are running strong ..go majali 😀

  • @maha: yes, i apologize for that. i now see the stunning difference between 1,000 and 853. i suppose parties representing roughly 1/8th of the total is so much better than it being 1/10th.

    because, i mean, then we’d really be in trouble..

  • The unfortunate thing is that we are loosing a chance to use the election festival to put somemcommunication about public issues out there. You don’t get a chance for so much outdoor advertisng to be put out there. With too few people reading newspapers or blogs, elections apwould have been at least a chance for groups who have an issue to have there message out on the street and the public sphere.

    I attended one lectionaries tent opening by a leftist candidate in Amman’s third district, the only one showing real political color in amman so far. There were over 1000 people there and there was a couple of powerful speeches that people don’t get to hear everyday.

    Imagine the power of that if more issue based candidates were out there rather than a people running on tribal or ‘wajaha’ basis.

  • @Humeid: i agree. for better or worse of the political status quo…this is an opportunity for issues to be put on the table and raise public awareness. but like you said, most are not running on issues (again, independents don’t have issues in the absence of genuine party line politics). i think we could probably draw up a list ourselves of the top 10 “issues” overheard at these election tents, and left, right or center, they would all be very, very similar.

  • I think a 1/8th figure for party representation in the candidate pool is, as Naseem suggests, very low when you consider what political parties in a country are supposed to stand for: common values. It is hard to believe that Jordanians have such diverse sets of values that they can produce this large number of independent candidates. But the real reason behind this is that the only value that is shared among Jordanians, and that is very well represented in these Jordanian elections, but not really part of any credible system of democratic representation in the modern world is allegiance to the tribe (and other social dependencies).

  • I am really heartened that this time you actually tried to light a candle instead of cursing the dark 🙂
    I do agree with some of what you said and how you view the whole scene, although I do believe that the lens you are using maybe a bit narrow?
    Everyone, including the government, agree that the current election law is far from ideal. From the 1st day the gov came to office, the whole country was calling for a date for the elections to be held. The King asked for the elections to take place within a year. So the gov brought in the experts and consulted widely on a different election law. But they could not get a consensus that could work in the very short time they had. So they went with the common denominator and will take the issue to the House for a wider discussion that can take its time until the next elections are held in 4 years.
    Meanwhile, the change, is that the PM has put his credibility and name on the line and is doing everything he can to ensure that the gov does its part in implementing the law, ensuring the process is fair and transparent and clean. The rest is up to the people to demand more from the candidates.

    The arrests (and by the way, the 35 university students were not arrested on campus, but in a farm in Madaba while doing “recreational” activities at 2 a.m. !) especially the unfortunate arrest of the muqata3a demo on Saturday, definitely did a lot of damage and sent the wrong message. It turns out that the Interior Minister (who sadly is still stuck in the dark ages) was using his authority and acting on his own! I sincerely hope that we wont see a repeat of this. (He actually ended up doing those students a huge favor. They got more publicity and attention for their cause from the arrest than they would have ever received had they carried out their planned demonstration peacefully!)

    As one comment noted the elections have opened the space to discuss and debate a lot of very important issues – be they political, economic or social. There are a lot of questions that are being debated. One of them is about the tribe and how it has evolved and whether it is a good or bad social system? The jury is still out on this one…

    We have a very long way to go for people’s mentality to evolve. I strongly believe in evolution vs revolution. We are sewing the seeds today. We need to keep working and helping the system evolve from within. It is a hell of a hard job to keep the candle burning, but its definitely worth it. 🙂

  • This is the travesty of justice and so called “Democracy” in Jordan, I don’t know when Jordanian are going to wake up from their coma , The royal family are spending their vacation with our money on a new Yacht in Porto-vecchio and most likely the royals are laughing at us trying to catch a mirage that will never rises. as long as we have this political structure that has strangled every venue we tried, we will never be able to Chang a thing .
    IT is Time For A New System period !!!!!

  • Does our government allow the formation of a political party in the first place?! Any attempts to create one would instantly be translated to “trying to overthrow the government,monarchy, etc..) and we’ll see a new wave of arrests. After that human right organizations will cry and eventually the king will pardon the detained.The whole cycle goes on and on again! We can barely breath in Jordan because of the general fear of intelligence and governmental agencies. It’s like a psychological disease affecting all Jordanians, we all live in fear of someone hearing us talking or expressing anything and I dare anybody to deny it!

    Even the formation of a simple group of people protesting yielded some arrests let alone a powerful political opposing party!

  • @Al Mashkalgee The O’mega yacht at the time of construction (That is without the many overhauls that had been done) came at a cost of about 52 million Euros.. So they absolutely did not buy it. I am sure the yacht is worth way above a 100 millions right now so even renting it costs huge money. The website you mentioned puts a cost of 490,000 Euros a week for the rental of this yacht and that actually fits the tag price.

    But I mean we as Jordanians cannot afford this. Half a million Euros spent on a week-long holiday on a yacht! This is sickening.. Even Obama who had one of the biggest fundraiser campaigns in the world’s strongest economy does not have that kind of money at hand! And our royals do?

  • Yanal, good point.

    Maha, even the single 1/8th runs on personal grounds. It is the party that benefits from a tribally strong candidate and not individuals elected because of the party they represent. Party candidates, the real ones run on list basis on policy programs that you would vote for the party candidate without necessarily knowing him personally.

    A7lam, the problem with come negotiate change in the parliament, is that the path leading to the parliament is only available for individuals not for groups. No movement be it the brotherhood or other will be able to penetrate collectively and promote policies. It is not about hope or will, it is the mechanism.

  • Yanal, lets try to get our facts right before attacking and complaining. Yes of course the Jordanian law allows for political parties. Please see the comment by Ahmad Humeid about a rally he attended for a leftist party and the kind of debates that took place openly and freely there.

    Ahmad Al Sholi, parliament is open to parties and groups not just individuals. The current political parties read the mood of the people and their distrust in the political parties, and so took a strategic decision to benefit from the loyalty of the people to their tribes by letting their candidates run as individuals who will then, once they win, announce their party affiliation. Is this good or bad? I don’t know. But it is certainly a clever tactic used by the current parties to increase their chances. Maybe they believe that once they are in Parliament they can demonstrate to the public what they are all about and build credibility so that four years from now they can run on a party platform.
    I do not believe there is anything that prevents the established political parties in Jordan from working as long as it is within the law. I personally still have no faith in any of them. I think they still have a lot to learn, mature and to develop a proper programme. I am all for that.
    I really do believe that a strong parliament is an asset to the government and will help in carrying the responsibility and will keep a form of checks and balances.

  • lol this is hilarious …
    ok here is a set of questions for those protesting that we have parties.
    1. Name 3 parties other than the IAF
    2. Name the platform and issues that concern them
    3. Name 3 Party members from each?

    Lets make it easier answer all 3 questions for one of the parties instead of all 3.

  • @A7lam:

    “Everyone, including the government, agree that the current election law is far from ideal.”

    this is a very problematic statement in my opinion. this government created a law, over night, behind closed doors, with no relevant societal input – then catapulted it on to the political landscape as an applicable law that is to govern the very way an entire country is about to vote for political representation. if this government truly thinks this law is “far from ideal” then they should remove it and resign because that is an incredibly dangerous game to play.

    i should also point out that in the meeting prime minister rifai had with bloggers (including myself) in late april – he claimed he had yet to see the law. that very law was announced and put in to effect several days later. so im not so sure about what you said regarding the process the whole law unfolded. second, the king called on elections to keep things within the constitutional framework, but, in my opinion, it is not out of the realm of possibility that a postponement of the elections could have been issued by the king if he had wanted to. we were without a parliament for many years in the past decade. what would have been the harm in saying “you know what, let’s take some time to get it right because we are genuine about political reform in jordan”? i think the people “calling for a date” (mostly media pundits) would have understood.

    “The arrests (and by the way, the 35 university students were not arrested on campus, but in a farm in Madaba while doing “recreational” activities at 2 a.m. !”

    i love that when needed, the police have the ability to capture 35 students on a farm, somewhere in madaba, at 2am.

    “It turns out that the Interior Minister (who sadly is still stuck in the dark ages) was using his authority and acting on his own!”

    this too is an incredibly dangerous statement. there is no such thing as a minister “acting on his own”. ministers operate within the directives granted to them – especially, and above all, the minister of interior. and even if it was the case that the minister acted absolutely and completely alone (something that would warrant a public apology) – then this is equally dangerous and, more importantly, reflective of a state, political apparatus, and cabinet, that is generally undemocratic.

    “There are a lot of questions that are being debated.”

    i think what was being pointed out was the potential. these elections have the potential to pose questions and inspire great public debates about national issues. it has failed to do so, and that’s largely due to the fact that party politics are absent and platforms are under-developed and individually centered, if it at all present to begin with.

  • Yeah we have parties of course 🙂 But unfortunately they’re all in jail the party and fun is there now, isn’t it a7lam? Toujan Al Faisal is an example of how opposition from one member and NOT a party could lead to disastrous implications in Jordan! Do you really think our mo5abarat would allow an opposition party to form? If they suspect a party will have influence on people, trust me a7lam 100% the government will stop it at once as they have stopped a small group of protesters in fear of what influence they could have in the past days. Even in university student council elections, our intelligence agencies always ruin it for Islamists because they don’t want them to have powers in anything…

    A funny incident I remember is that they spread a rumor about the Islamists trying to separate students based on gender. Of course the guys and possibly some of the girls freaked out :p That being said, the votes share for these people plumbed down.

    Jordanian laws speak of freedom of speech, equal rights for all, etc, etc… Of course, we have none of these. It’s my right to complain when I see my best friend struggling to find a medicine seat while numerous stupid brats get one by was6a while indirectly taking his(They even admit it) in UJ.

    My right to complain when no one can raise his voice because of fear. My right to complain when I wish there was an opposition party that had some influence on the government. My right to do that and the facts about human rights records in Jordan since forever SPEAK and they are clearly not in favor of our country.

    We need someone to speak for us and the current parliamentary system won’t work. An independent person without a party to protect and support him cannot face or speak up to the government alone. He’s just a person, maybe they’ll send him a gang and beat him up o 5elsat il 2ossa? Don’t tell me it doesn’t happen, it does. They even change medical records so human rights organizations won’t suspect a thing and I assure you 100% that these stuff do happen.

  • @ Al Mashkalgee – I read somewhere that the yacht story was in fact a 4 day cruise given to the Queen by a friend as a gift. The gift was the cruise – not the Omega yacht itself.

  • lANA,,, Queen Rania also spent 20,000 Euros on fruits and vegetables in span of 14 days , I never heard in my entire life a vacationer would spend 20,000 Euros ..

    عشرين ألف يورو على فواكه وخضراوت؟؟ ، طيب أنا بشتري حسبة عمان كلها مع دككينها بعشرين ألف يورو

  • Great reading of the big picture
    You didn’t come accross the quality of slogans….hahahahaha
    I feel ashamed every time I read them,it is like I’m in KG!

    Now stories about violence in Amman,Kerak,street riots,kidnapping an ER room,daggers,knives,fights

    What is this? The country is no better than any poor African country.

  • Thank you Naseem, this has been the best analysis of the so called election process I have read so far. Ya3teek il 3afyeh. It’s frustrating to keep realizing that we are not making any significant progress.

Your Two Piasters: