Credible Elections a Step Forward for Jordan and the Region

November 10, 2010
 
Amman, Jordan – IRI's 24-member international election witnesMadigan (left) talks with a domestic observer at a poll station in Amman.s team determined that Jordan’s November 9, 2010 parliamentary elections were credible, an improvement on previous elections and a significant step forward for the Middle East.  If such progress is to continue, the delegation believes that a number of improvements should be made addressing pre-election and Election Day issues before Jordan’s next balloting process.    
  
IRI’s delegation found that in terms of the pre-election environment and administration, candidates were able to actively campaign and disseminate their message to voters.  Citizens had access to information needed to make informed election decisions.  Relevant government officials made a conscious effort to create an expectation of improved transparency and to educate Jordanians about voting rights and changes to the country’s electoral law.  In terms of Election Day administration, the delegation found balloting station officials to be well trained, competent and helpful.  The use of technology and introduction of procedures such as the open counting of ballots enhanced the efficiency and transparency on the day of voting.  Improved civic education was evidenced by the majority of voters understanding the balloting process, which was generally carried out in a calm and orderly manner.  The enthusiasm of women candidates and voters was evident in both the pre-election period and on Election Day and likely is a result of the expanded representation of women in the upcoming parliament.
 

Jordan has joined a growing list of countries in the Middle East in inviting international witnesses and welcoming the expanded presence of domestic observers and candidate agents, which adds to the transparency of the voting process.  Domestic observers and candidate agents were present in almost every polling place visited by IRI and were knowledgeable about their duties. 

There remains much room for improvement in Jordan’s elections.  Jordan’s new election law should strengthen representation for all Jordanians.  Modest improvements to increase representation were made in the November 9 elections, including the number of seats allotted to Amman, Irbid and Zarqa.  However, the system of districting still does not ensure equitable representation for all Jordanians.  The overrepresentation of rural districts is accentuated by the controversial single non-transferable vote system, thus further diluting the representation of urban voters.  In addition, the introduction of electoral sub-districts is extremely confusing and does not address the fundamental weakness of representation in parliament.
 
Reports of vote buying have undermined the credibility of previous elections and remained a source of persistent rumor in the November 9 elections; further civic education on the negative impact of vote buying and enforcement of clear punitive measures for those found guilty of vote buying must be put into place before the next elections.  In addition, Jordan’s voter list needs to be updated.

Although the parliamentary elections engendered a lively period of campaigning and get-out-the-vote efforts by candidates, electioneering on November 9 inside polling places was in direct violation of Jordan’s electoral law, which lacks clarity regarding the end of campaigning.

Institutionally, while the Ministry of Interior was earnest and competent in Election Day administration, the vast majority of democratic countries have an independent election commission.  The near absence of meaningful platforms and issue-based campaigns by candidates undermines public interest in elections and ultimately has a negative impact on voter participation.  Jordan’s struggling political parties lack popular bases of support and until parties build grassroots membership and address citizens’ priorities and concerns, they will not play a meaningful role in electoral politics.  The November 9 elections must mark the beginning of a concerted effort to strengthen the Majlis al-Nuwwab’s institutional purview and capabilities if the widespread perception that parliament has little relevance is to change.  Absent such reforms, the importance of democratic institutions in the lives of voters will continue to decline.       
 
IRI’s delegation was led by Peter T. Madigan, Vice Chairman of IRI’s Board of Directors.  Madigan has served as Transition Chief of Staff to United States Trade Ambassador Robert B. Zoellick, principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs for Secretary James A. Baker III and Baker’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Legislative Affairs. 

Other members of the delegation were:

  • Dr. Wajeeha Sadiq Al Baharna, President of the Bahrain Women’s Society and Vice Chair of IRI’s Arab Women’s Leadership Institute;
  • Michele Dunne, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and editor of the online journal Arab Reform Bulletin;
  • Alberto Carnero Fernández, Director of the International Affairs Unit of the Foundation for Social Studies and Analysis in Spain;
  • Louisa Greve, Vice President for Asia, Middle East and North Africa, and Multiregional Programs at the National Endowment for Democracy;
  • David Schenker, Aufzien Fellow and Director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy;
  • Hassan Habib Mohamed El Shamy, Deputy Director of Monitoring 2010 Parliamentary Elections Project at the Ibn Khaldun Center in Egypt;
  • David Vriesendorp, Member of the Board of Directors of the Eduardo Frei Foundation in the Netherlands; and
  • Charity Wallace, Director of the Women’s Initiative at the Bush Institute.
 
Prior to the elections, delegates were briefed by Jordanian election officials, international and Jordanian nongovernmental organizations and an expert on Jordanian media.  Delegates were also briefed on the rights and responsibilities of international witnesses, the Jordanian Code of Conduct for election observers and Jordanian election law. 
 
IRI staff also served as observers and assisted in the mission.  IRI staff were led by Lorne Craner, President of IRI; Judy Van Rest, Executive Vice President; Scott Mastic, Director of Middle East and North Africa programs; and David Bell, Resident Country Director for IRI in Jordan.

On Election Day IRI witnessed voting in approximately 250 voting stations.  IRI also deployed local long-term observers to monitor the campaign period in all 12 governorates.  These observers monitored voting preparations, candidate campaigning, the media environment and the political atmosphere within the Kingdom.  Long-term observers met with government officials, political campaign representatives, civil society activists and election stakeholders.  Long-term observers also monitored voting and ballot counting on Election Day, and will continue to monitor the adjudication process and resolution of complaints following the elections.  Election Day is only one part of a larger and longer four part process, which includes the pre-election environment, pre-election administration, Election Day voting, and vote counting and post-election adjudication resulting in acceptance of legitimate results.  In the coming months, IRI will issue a comprehensive, final report on the election. 

IRI has monitored more than 135 elections in more than 40 countries.  Since 2005, IRI’s work in Jordan has focused on connecting citizens and government by promoting good governance, strong political parties and public opinion research.  IRI grassroots-focused activities encourage democratic participation on the national and sub-national levels by politically engaging civil society, particularly women and youth, and preparing political parties and candidates for elections. 

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