While the results of Jordan’s September 20, 2016 parliamentary elections are unlikely to have a major impact throughout the greater Middle East, the outcome could impact Jordan’s political future in significant ways by virtue of an increased presence of women and Islamists in parliament and the potential for post-election coalitions to emerge.
IRI conducted a joint election observation mission with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), with 45 mission delegates visiting more than 150 polling stations throughout the Kingdom on election day. In a preliminary statement, this delegation noted that while there were some isolated incidents of violence, campaigning in and around polling centers and poor accessibility for persons with disabilities, most voters were able to cast their votes and exercise their rights without any significant impediment.
Prior to the election, I wrote about five issues to watch and predicted how each would affect the contest. Now with the results in, we have a better idea of how everything played out—and exactly how Jordan’s parliament will look for the foreseeable future.
1. Voter Turnout – As expected, voter turnout was notably low for this election, at only 36 percent. Part of this is due to the implementation of automatic voter registration, which nearly doubled the pool of eligible voters from 2.28 million in 2013 to 4.13 million this year. However, there were only about 200,000 more voters this year than in 2013, out of 1.85 million more eligible voters. Youth turnout was also fairly low, at 35 percent of total votes, despite the fact that youth between the ages of 17 to 30 constitute 40 percent of Jordan’s population.
Turnout also varied considerably by region. Rural, low-population areas like the Bedouin-dominated badia desert regions generated much higher turnout rates than cities like Amman. Of course, far more people overall voted in these cities in terms of raw numbers, which raises another common complaint among Jordanian voters: the relatively high power afforded to smaller electoral districts with lower populations. Disillusionment with the power of voting coupled with very low confidence in the efficacy of Jordan’s parliament undoubtedly factored into the low turnout on September 20.
2. The Impact of Jordan’s New Election Law – While limited voter knowledge of Jordan’s 2016 Election Law was a concern in the lead-up to election day, voters seemed to generally understand electoral procedures and the number of ballots spoiled due to mistakes was not significantly high. The most visible impact of this Law was instead how much longer the vote counting and tabulation process took during this election, since voters completed a longer ballot and could cast multiple votes. This noticeably delayed the announcement of election results—24 hours after polls closed the Independent Election Commission had only announced results for only three out of 23 districts.
3. Political Party Performance – These elections did little to strengthen political parties in Jordan. Party representatives claimed 30 seats out of 130, or 23 percent. No single party could boast a strong showing, since these 30 seats were split among nine different parties, each taking one to ten seats a piece. Although the 2016 Election Law mandated that all candidates run on a list, tribal identities, individual personalities and temporary alliances of convenience dominated most lists, not ideologically-oriented parties. There was frequent competition between candidates on the same list, and some lists contained “filler” candidates only present to satisfy the legally required number of candidates on a list. Most party-affiliated candidates, in fact, either downplayed or refused to campaign under their party’s name, lest it damage their credibility or reputation.
4. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Performance – As many expected, the political arm of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), and its independent allies did much better than all other political parties, taking 15 seats as the “National Coalition for Reform.” Although this is only about 12 percent of the 130 seats in parliament, the Coalition now controls the largest single voting bloc in parliament. The IAF ran on 20 different lists, and their party’s cohesion proved to be a major asset. They were one of the few parties that developed a comprehensive national platform that could be adapted to local needs, and all members pledged to support and promote this platform. They also formed alliances with Christian candidates and took advantage of a three-seat quota for Chechen and Circassian Jordanians. It remains to be seen how the Jordanian government will respond to the IAF’s performance, as tension has increased between the two in the past year.
5. Women’s Representation – The parliamentary elections produced mixed results for women’s representation. A total of 20 women won seats, forming about 15 percent of Jordan’s 130-seat parliament. This means that five women won in their own right, outside of the 15-seat quota in place for women in parliament. This is an improvement over the previous parliament, wherein women held 18 seats out of 150 (12 percent), and won three seats outside of the 15-seat quota.
While these numbers are positive for women’s representation, women’s rights groups in Jordan had hoped for higher numbers and different women candidates to win. Three of the women that won seats outside of the quota are members of the IAF or Islamist allies from other lists, and activists doubt their commitments to advancing women’s rights in Jordan. At the same time, Rula Alhroob and Hind al-Fayez, prominent women politicians from the previous parliament, did not win reelection. Therefore, while there may be more women in parliament now overall, those women may not be as strong of advocates for women’s rights. Additionally, although 252 out of the 1,252 candidates that ran for a parliamentary seat were women (about 20 percent), women faced significant obstacles during campaigning. The 2016 Election Law mandated that candidates run on lists, and some women unfortunately ended up as “filler” candidates on these lists. Pre-election polling indicated that more women than men planned to vote in the parliamentary elections, yet actual voter turnout was 52 percent men and 48 percent women.