Small Step Towards Multiparty Rule in Jordan

04/12/2012 10:55 am ET | Updated Jun 12, 2012

The Jordanian government presented the draft elections law to Parliament. It is sure to garner much discussion before it is finally approved and published in the Official Gazette.

For starters, this would be one of the times an election law is actually debated in Parliament and not issued as a temporary law based on a Royal Decree.

The draft elections law comes after the Political Party Law and the law on the independent electoral commission were approved, building more confidence that the upcoming elections will be freer and fairer than previous elections.

Jordanian politicians said that previous elections included irregularities and that security services had a role in deciding who represented Jordanians in Parliament.

Although Jordan's new elections law includes some improvements over the previous pro-tribal one-man, one-vote system, it falls short of what public protests have been calling for and even the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The National Dialogue Commission recommended that Jordan's new Elections Law use the proportional system for deciding Parliament members.

Jordan's Elections Law will introduce the mixed voting system, but the draft law is still biased in favor of local districts. The government-conceived Elections Law allows voters to choose two candidates from their district instead of one. This means voters can please their constituency with the one vote and also vote for representatives who may represent some ideals they might find attractive.

Because of the close-knit tribal system and strong societal pressure, the previous system made Jordanians choose the tribal candidate.

Women quotas were also slightly improved. The number of women in the next Parliament will be at least 15, guaranteeing that every Jordanian district will have at least one female representative. This will be a boost to women from Amman who failed to gain a seat on the quota because women in rural districts always received higher percentages than the populated capital.

A second seat is said to be assigned to Amman's large Christian population, thus defusing the struggle for this coveted seat by East Bank Jordanian Christians and Jordanian Christians of Palestinian origin.

Furthermore, the new mixed system allows a second ballot. This enables voters to choose national candidates who are members of registered political parties. Fifteen candidates representing political parties will be elected according to the new draft law. They cannot be members of any single party. The draft law puts a ceiling on party lists, five candidates each, thus allowing for at least three political parties to be represented in the 17th Jordanian Parliament.

Political parties have been calling on the government to allow them to constitute 50 percent of Parliament. Some independent members of Parliament told this writer that they would be happy with at least 30 percent. Imposing a ceiling on the number of candidates is seen as an attempt to limit the seats of Islamist candidates. Islamist and other political candidates can still run and get elected in their own districts.

While limited nationwide candidates and setting a ceiling run against representative government, they do provide a badly needed impetus to multiparty politics in Jordan.

With the exception of Islamists (who have access to mosques and support), few political parties were able to enter Jordan's Parliament. Some did as individual candidates or used the quota system for women or minorities to be elected to Parliament.

With at least three political parties in the next Parliament, Jordan hopes to fulfill the King's desire of having a left, centre and right party for the government to interact with.

Parliament has begun discussion of the new law. It will probably take a few months to deal with it after the legal committee gives its recommendations. Pundits expect the Elections Law to be fully debated in the extraordinary sessions expected to be decreed once the current normal session expires, in late April. Until then, much debate can be expected around this law.