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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.

Jordan’s strange electoral system will be changed to something that is, hopefully, less strange

Jordan’s king (and fellow Hoya) Abdullah II, has thrown his support behind proposed changes to the country’s constitution the other day. The proposal is the latest change in a series of reforms that have yet to become law. In May, the government announced plans to do away with it’s current mess of an electoral system and move to one that uses some sort of party lists.  Most sources I’ve talked to say that the plan is indeed to move to party list PR, although the details haven’t been worked out yet.   Whatever the details are, however, it would be hard to not improve the system Jordan has now.

Jordan currently uses a variant of a Single non-Transferable Voting (SNTV) system, which is generally known as the worst electoral system out there.  Abandoned by Japan, and currently used in Afghanistan, SNTV has candidates running as individuals (not party lists)  in multi-member districts. Unlike Block voting, however, voters only get one vote.  So, for example, in a district with ten open seats, I get to vote for one person.  The top ten candidates with the most votes would then fill the seats.  One of the most salient effects of these rules is to weaken political parties (although it theoretically is fairly proportional).  This is because SNTV makes effective coordination nearly impossible, as parties would have to essentially run their own candidates against each other in every district.

SNTV is odd enough as it is, but Jordan decided to go a step further in the strange rules department when they instituted their new laws for the 2010 election.  The system remained SNTV (divided into 45 single- and multi-member constituencies) with the added confusion that these districts would be now further divided into virtual or “ghost districts.”   What is a ghost district you ask?  Well it’s simply a district that only the candidate can see…..Maybe that requires more explanation.

When registering for the election, candidates must declare which virutal district they want to run in.  So, for example, if there are ten open seats (all representing the exact same people mind you), a candidate must choose to run in seat… lets say 7.  That candidate will now be running only against every other candidate who chose the same district.  So now we have ten separate, First Past the Post, winner-take-all seats, all representing the same constituents.   The voter, however, still only gets to vote for one candidate.  This creates another coordination problem, as naturally, any candidate only wants to run in the easiest virtual district (the one with the least and weakest opponents).  Which district is the easiest, however, completely depends on the decisions of every other candidate, all of whom are also attempting to achieve the same outcome, and all also with the same lack of information necessary to do so.

If that isn’t clear, lets use the US as an example.  Lets say you live, like me, in northern Virginia.  Instead of being only able to vote in CD-8, you can choose to cast one vote for any candidate running for US House in the entire state.  They will all be representing you anyway. The candidates, though, still have to choose which Congressional district they want to run in. Sound like a good idea?

I never really figured out what the intentions for the virtual districts were, but my guess is it was a way for the King to throw coordination issues down to the local tribes, while keeping them happy by weakening political parties.  A system like this would have forced local elites to make pre-election bargains with one another so they could work out who ran in each district.

Whether I’m right or wrong, I’m pretty confident the virtual districts weren’t designed with the intention of making the country more democratic.  Hopefully the new reforms will create conditions more conducive to the forming of legitimate political parties that provide some sort of democratic accountability to the Jordanian people.

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