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Jordan’s 2013 Parliamentary Election


Jordan’s Independent Electoral Commission.

This Wednesday, Jordanians will vote in a parliamentary elections to determine the composition of their 150-member Chamber of Deputies.  A number of significant reforms to the electoral law have taken place since the last election, including changes to the institution managing the election, voting procedures, and the electoral system.

The most high profile debate over the past year has been over reforms to Jordan’s electoral system. Reform advocates have achieved some success, though the system still doesn’t reflect all of their demands. Gone are the Virtual – or “Ghost” – districts from the previous election. The system now more closely resembles what was in place from 1993 to 2007, in that most seats will be elected via Single Non Transferable Vote (SNTV). That means that every voter will cast one vote in a multi-member district with N seats, with the top N vote getters winning the open seats. This implications for SNTV are fairly well established. The system makes it very difficult for political parties to form as parties would essentially have to run their own candidates against each other. It also increases the incentive for corruption, as the marginal value of every vote is very high.  This is because SNTV systems often result in the winning candidates capturing their seats with a very small percent of the vote. In general, SNTV is viewed as favoring Jordan’s tribes while hurting organized political parties. Most changes to Jordan’s election law throughout the years have been viewed as finding ways to help tribal elites as much as possible, while making life more difficult for anybody wanting to form a political party.

The system isn’t quite normal SNTV, however, as there is a very low average district magnitude (seats per district). In fact, 18 out of the 45 districts have only one seat, making them First Past The Post (FPTP) races. The average district magnitude of all the districts is only 2.37.


As with previous elections, the electoral law has provisions to ensure a certain level of ethnic minority representation. Nine seats are reserved for Christians across eight districts, while three seats are reserved for Chechens/Circassians across three different districts. For example, Balqaa’s First District has seven seats, five for Muslims and two for Christians. In this district, the top five Muslim candidates will win and the top two Christen candidates will take seats.  Any voter can vote for a Muslim, Christen, or Chechen/Circassian candidate if they are running. So in this sense, a Muslim can vote for  a Christian “seat” and vice versa.  This is similar to the consociational system that Lebanon uses, though in Lebanon, voters get as many votes as their are seats in a district.

In addition to districts based on the 12  governorates, nine seats will be reserved for Bedouins across three districts.  Participation in these districts, whether as a candidate or voter, is reserved for members of certain families who are listed as belonging to the respective locations. A breakdown of all the districts and  governorates is below.


Gender Quota

There is also a gender quota component in the electoral law, which will guarantee at least 15 women are elected to parliament. For each of the 12 governorates, the female candidate who receives the highest percentage of votes in their district will be elected, regardless of their vote total compared to their male counterparts. This also applies to the three Bedouin districts.  This is the same way Afghanistan implements its gender quota, and it’s probably the most intuitive way if you are using an SNTV system.  Afghanistan, however, mandates the top two females from each province are elected, which guarantees that the Wolesi Jirga will be 27% female. Jordan’s minimum, will only be 10%.

Proportional Representation Seats

In addition to the 108 SNTV/SMD seats, 27 seats will be allocated using a closed-list proportional representation system. Opposition members from all political stripes have long advocated for a PR system or tier, which benefits political parties. Although the 27 seats are a small concession, most opposition members still seem to feel that it is inadequate. The PR tier will be comprised of one nationwide district, and seats will be tabulated using the Hare Quota.

Ballots and Other Reforms

Jordan has made several administrative reforms for this election, which will hopefully result in a better run poll. The first is the establishment of an independent Electoral Management Body (EMB), the Independent Election Commission (IEC). The IEC replaces the Ministry of Interior, which previously ran elections. Now, of course, having the word “Independent” in your name isn’t  a sufficient condition to meet the requirements of being independent. The IEC commissioners are still appointed by the Monarch, so there are still some issues of influence here. With that being said, a separate body is probably preferable to the Ministry of Interior in terms of administration and legitimacy.

The other issue is with regards to ballot paper. For the 2013 election, voters will receive two pre-printed ballot sheets, one for the PR tier and one for the SNTV tier. In past elections, voters were given a blank sheet in which they had to write the name of their candidate. Aside from potentially disenfranchising illiterate voters, blank ballots greatly influenced the power of elites as it increased the marginal cost of casting a vote. Seeing a list of candidates in front of you is much easier than needing to memorize one beforehand; especially when there are so many candidates. For this reason, blank ballots benefit candidates with the highest name recognition and result in less informed decision making.

How should international actors respond to evidence of a stolen election?

In Power Sharing and Inclusive Politics in Africa’s Uncertain Democracies, A. Carl LeVan argues that traditional methods of building inclusive and consociational institutions can undermine accountability and democracy.

Building inclusive institutions is usually thought to be an important element in building stable democracies.  Arend Lijphart famously advocated for divided societies to implement a form of consocialtional democracy in ethnic cleavages are managed by grand coalitions of elites who wield mutual veto points in decision making.  Juan Linz advocated against presidential systems, attributing the shorter regime life of Latin American nations to their majoritarian nature.  Africa, it would seem, with its colonial era borders, would be the perfect setting to measure the impact of such institutions.  While many African institutional designs are more a result of colonial heritage – single member districts for former British colonies, two-round elections for French – LeVan argues the continent has developed both formal and informal mechanisms for governing across ethnic cleavages.

LeVan believes, however, that consociational and powersharing models, which were built by theorists examining Latin American “pacting,” are less relevant in modern day Africa.  Powersharing governments make it difficult for voters to evaluate government performance (which party is responsible for the state of the country?)  and nearly impossible to punish bad governance.  It also can create inefficient spending if it includes doling out useless ministries to placate power blocks.  While democracy promoters have pushed for strong institutions, LeVan continues, they have subsequently undermined them by legitimating “rule changes” to accommodate election losers.  Powersharing agreements after flawed elections like those in Zimbabwe and Kenya have set a standard for ignoring the results of an election in the name of forming an inclusive government.   LeVan goes on to say that exporting systems designed for post-conflict environments to areas where democratic values are more ingrained, only decreases accountability and undermines the legitimacy of the government.

I’m not as familiar with some of the countries that LeVan mentions but I think his main point deserves serious consideration.  Lebanon’s method of extreme powersharing may help avoid civil conflict (most of the time)  but in part because of the problems that LeVan mentions: mutual veto points help avoid conflict by making sure less gets done; this essentially makes control over government worth less.   While diluting the value of government has an understandable benefit if conflict mitigation is your number one priority,  it’s probably not the best way to develop truly democratic institutions.

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