Electoral Administration, Environment Improve; Electoral Framework Continues to Fall Short

Read the statement in Arabic

Amman, Jordan – On January 23, 2013, Jordanians went to the polls to choose a new parliament in an election that was an important step toward building Jordanian voters’ trust in election administration.  And while improved Election Day procedures, carried out under the supervision of Jordan’s new Independent Election Commission (IEC), underscore a more transparent process, the electoral framework continues to fall short.

Elections are a process, which include the campaign period, Election Day, ballot counting, adjudication of complaints and acceptance of results.  The electoral process cannot be separated from the political and legal framework within which it operates.  For democracy to advance in Jordan, inequities in the election law must be addressed, such as districting that does not treat all votes equally.  In IRI’s 2010 statement on Jordan’s parliamentary elections, IRI noted “the system of districting does not ensure equitable representation for all Jordanians.  The over-representation of rural districts is accentuated by the controversial single non-transferable vote system [SNTV], thus further diluting the representation of urban voters.”

Reforms instituted under the new electoral law do not sufficiently address these inequalities.  The addition of national list seats (27 out of 150 seats) elected by proportional representation did little to steer Jordan towards the development of national political parties founded on common platforms.  Addressing such shortfalls is needed for a more empowered parliament built on political parties to come to fruition.

Despite this, Jordan’s 2013 elections were a step forward from the country’s 2010 elections due largely to the establishment of the IEC.  IRI’s delegation, which was deployed in all 12 governorates and observed at more than 175 polling stations, found election officials to be well-trained and knowledgeable about their roles, willing to engage with observers and accessible at all levels.  The IEC took important steps toward establishing itself as an impartial election management body by improving the voters’ list, carrying out efficient candidate and national list registrations, issuing preprinted ballots, and administering a transparent Election Day process.  The IEC should also be commended for hosting more than 150 international election observers in a manner consistent with the United Nations Declaration on International Election Observation and for facilitating their work and the of work of a robust contingent of citizen observers throughout the country.

As noted in IRI’s pre-election assessment report, one area for improvement for the IEC to address is the voter registration process.  While the registration process led to a more accurate voter list, group registration, allowed under the law, lends itself to fraud or to some individuals being registered against their will.

A positive attribute of the 2013 elections was a more open environment for campaigning and public discourse that helped remove previous taboos on being politically active and speaking one’s mind.  Throughout the election process, candidates and citizens were allowed the space to discuss aspects of government and public life that were previously off limits.  IRI also commends the IEC for the provision of one-minute of free air time on national television to all registered candidates and lists.  This provided candidates with greater opportunity to present themselves to voters.

Another important step taken by Jordanian authorities was improved enforcement of laws pertaining to alleged vote buying and other influence peddling around elections with notable arrests of candidates and agents accused of using money or gifts to illegally influence the process.  Nonetheless, IRI’s delegation heard numerous allegations of vote buying on Election Day that were not limited to one region.  For Jordanians to recognize a sustained and impartial commitment to stopping the practice of vote buying, current cases must be fully adjudicated through a due process and laws must be enforced equally for all groups. 

In addition, in future elections, Jordan should strengthen rules regulating the conduct of candidate agents inside and around polling centers.  Enforcement of rules against Election Day campaigning outside polling centers must also be significantly improved upon, or the law amended, before the next election, as IRI’s delegation witnessed campaigning in violation of the current law outside the majority of polling centers visited.  An improved definition of campaigning under the current law may be another way to address this shortcoming.  Improved candidate and party financial disclosure regulations would additionally contribute to building greater voter awareness in future elections.

With regard to the electoral framework – the dominant SNTV system – tribal allegiances continue to be the major factor in candidate selection and campaigning, with personality trumping platforms.  The introduction of national proportional list seats may begin to address this challenge, but the number of seats elected by national list should be increased if a meaningful change in parliament’s composition is to be realized.  Likewise, national lists would have had a greater impact on encouraging political party participation if competition on lists had been limited to political parties.  Notwithstanding a more free campaign environment, these factors, plus a rushed election schedule, left little time for voters to make informed choices and did not result in competition based on party or list platform.

With respect to women’s representation, the new electoral law did not increase the percentage of women in the national parliament.  In addition, Jordan’s system of allocating seats to women re-enforces the same inequities between rural and urban districts seen in other areas of the electoral law.  To ensure that more women are elected and serve in parliament, Jordan needs to expand women’s representation and institute an equitable method of allocating women’s seats.

Currently, there is little connection between votes won and power conveyed to election winners due to parliament’s weak mandate and limited governing authority.  A long-term solution to improving the quality of electoral competition, and potentially lessening the practice of vote buying, would be to increase the powers of the national parliament, thus increasing the value voters place on their parliamentary vote. 

IRI’s delegation makes the following preliminary recommendations as a roadmap for improving future Jordanian elections.  The recommendations will be further elaborated on in a full report IRI will issue in the coming months. 

IRI’s delegation included representatives from Canada, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Poland and the United States, and was led by Gahl Hodges Burt, Vice Chair of the American Academy in Berlin and a member of IRI’s Board of Directors; and Agnieszka Pomaska, member of the lower house of the Polish Parliament and chair of the European Affairs Committee.
The 15 short-term observer teams built on the work which began with IRI’s October 2012 pre-election assessment mission, and included three long-term observer teams that have been deployed in the country since November 2012.  IRI’s long-term observers met with government officials, political campaign representatives, civil society activists and election stakeholders.  They also monitored voting and ballot counting on Election Day, and will observe the adjudication processes and resolution of complaints following the elections.

Other members of IRI’s delegation were:

Prior to the elections, delegates were briefed by the IEC, Jordanian nongovernmental organizations and parliamentary candidates.  Delegates were also briefed on the rights and responsibilities of international observers, the Jordanian Code of Conduct for election observers and Jordanian election law.  Delegates were then deployed throughout the country where they observed the polling process. 

IRI staff also served as observers and assisted in the mission.  IRI staff was led by Judy Van Rest, Executive Vice President of IRI; Scott Mastic, Director of Middle East and North Africa programs; and Jeff Lilley, Resident Country Director for IRI in Jordan.

Since 1983, IRI has monitored more than 150 elections in more than 46 countries, including Jordan’s 2010 parliamentary elections.

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