Jordan elections: time to rebuild the trust?

This blog was written by GPG’s Senior Project Manager Batool Al-Refaai, who reports on the recent Jordanian general elections and the deterioration of the country’s trust in its representatives in the heart of a crisis. 

On 10 November 2020, general elections were held in Jordan to elect the new members of its 19th House of Representatives. Turnout was at its lowest in a decade – a direct result of the pandemic’s effect on the electorate – and according to the Jordanian Independent Election Commission did not exceed 29.9%, marking a 36% decrease since 2016. In spite of many calls on social media to boycott the elections, in particular because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, around 1,387,711 Jordanian went to the polls. Voting took place in person and the country witnessed four days of total lockdown following election day.   

The result of the election reveals that tribalism still appear to be the main factor behind voters’ decision. Despite calls to base votes on candidate competency, many voters favoured members of their families or tribes. On the other hand, and for the first time in a decade, the Jordanian Parliament welcomed new faces in its ranks: 100 out of 130 MPs were newcomers, including about 20 retired senior military officers. This however did not prevent the house from remaining largely dominated by businessmen and representatives of powerful tribes. The Jordanian vote thus highlights both the weight of tribal influence and the weaknesses of established political factions. Most of Jordan’s parties took part in the elections with 47 out of 48 of them registering candidates. However, they only accounted for only 16% of the newly elected representatives.  

Quite unfortunately Women’s representation was particularly low. According to the results announced by the electoral commission, only 360 of the 1,674 candidates registered in the race were women. As Independent Election Commission chairman Khaled al-Kalaldeh mentioned, only 15 women made it into Parliament – in great part thanks to the quota system – against 20 female members in the outgoing parliament.  

With the exceptional situation through which Jordan is going in mind, the new MPs have many challenges ahead. At present Jordan is, much like most of the world, still grappling with the pandemic. Unemployment rates are soaring; the tourist industry was completely shut down, and Petra is empty of visitors. Many new priorities have emerged in varied sector: immense efforts are being made to reinforce the healthcare system and improve its readiness and capacity; to design straightforward economic recovery programmes with specific timeframes that include measurable steps to stimulate growth and have a tangible effect in reducing the economic implication of the pandemic; to keep promoting the agriculture sector; to find innovative solutions to support tourism and minimise existing damage with a focus on domestic tourism; and to support small and medium businesses.  

In these trying times, Jordan prepares for many trials and new priorities. It will require efficient representatives who are able to carry out their duties to the highest level, with a focus on developing effective mechanisms to strengthen Government-Parliament relations and interactions. As his Majesty King Abdullah II stressed, Jordan also needs to improve the representation of its political parties through clear and realistic programs that meet the aspirations and needs of its citizens. It must also dedicate important efforts to the improvement of Women’s engagement in politics.  

GPG worked in Jordan to support the building of parliamentary capacity by providing direct assistance to the staff and members of the Parliament’s committees. We helped define their roles and responsibilities, contributed to the establishment of internal procedures and strategic plans, and provided advice on budget and legislative scrutiny as well as on the revision of bylaws and their implementation in Parliament. GPG also worked to support the development of stronger and more effective political parties in Parliament by providing direct advice to MPs and supporting them to organise a bloc within Parliament. We built links connecting parties and parliamentary blocs with external Civil Society Organisations through our local partners. We also worked to strengthen governmental interaction with Parliament in order to support the delivery of the King’s vision for political reform in Jordan.   

GPG has also been supporting the development of decentralisation in Jordan by assisting the locally elected councils and executive councils in the governorates of Karak, Madaba, and Jerash. The work, through HM Embassy in Jordan, has focused on introducing the concept of fact-finding inquiries within different tiers of local government. GPG’s work in Jerash focused on bringing together the MPs and the 33 elected women from the local, municipal, and governorate councils and encouraging them to establish a network across the four tiers. As a result, the elected women’s network of Jerash was established and agreed to launch a fact-finding investigation into the barriers to financial independence and opportunities for economic empowerment of women in Jerash. GPG supported the network in holding the sessions and formulating specific policy recommendations. We put the network in contact with representatives from government ministries and governorate to discuss the recommendations and provide solutions together.   

This could be an opportunity for representatives to rebuild trust between them and the people as the disconnect grows larger. Jordanians do not see the Parliament as a key–tool to address and respond to their priorities. This mistrust harms parliamentary capacity to meet long-term challenges and to move forward with the political reform process. Bridging this trust divide between citizens and parliamentarians is no easy task and requires focus and concrete efforts. This would ultimately allow taking some steps to improve communication between citizens and their representatives, deliver evidence- based recommendations to effectively address citizens’ needs, and bring citizens to the frontline in the decision-making process.