Can Jordan’s new parliament spearhead political change?

Despite the Islamists’ comeback to parliament,’no radical changes’ are expected.

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station for parliamentary elections in Amman
The Muslim Brotherhood took part in this year's elections after a nine-year boycott [Muhammad Hammad/REUTERS]

Amman- Jordan’s newly elected parliament is unlikely to lead to any political change in the country, analysts say. “No radical changes are expected because opposition forces remain a small minority in the parliament and challenged by a conservative pro-government MPs,” Oraib Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, told al-Jazeera. 

According to the final results released by Jordan’s Independent Electoral Commission on Sunday, the National Coalition for Reform, which represents the Islamic Action Front (IAF) and its allies, gained 15 seats, including 10 seats won by the IAF, the political wing of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. 

Nine political parties won 30 seats including the Islamist party Zamzam (five seats), the National Current Party (four seats), the Islamic Centrist Party (five seats) and the Justice and Reform Party (two seats).

The Baath, Communist, National Union and Al Awn parties won one seat each.

However, the majority of the newly elected MPs were either individuals with tribal affiliations or businessmen, as had been the case during the past two decades.

Jordan election: Muslim Brotherhood gains ground

The Jordanian government will have to deal with the Brotherhood as a reality, as they practise their legislative and supervisory role. They will be holding meetings with politicians and asking the government tough questions.

by Rakan Saaydah, Jordanian journalist and commentator

Jordan is often described as a tribal society, where ties to large family groups are crucial in defining who holds power. Jordanians admit that family and personal loyalties are an important influence for political choices

The Muslim Brotherhood participated in the elections after boycotting the previous two in 2010 and 2013 in protest against the one-man-one-vote system.

“In the aftermath of the 1989 elections, in which the Muslim Brotherhood won 30 percent of the seats, the ‘one man, one vote’ system was implemented, effectively weakening the role of political parties in the Jordanian political system,” Anja Wehler-Schoeck, director of Amman’s Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Jordan & Iraq foundation, told al-Jazeera. 

Although the Muslim Brotherhood is considered to be the largest party in terms of representation in the newly-elected parliament, analysts say that the group’s ability to pass new laws or revoke confidence in the government will be limited.

“Stronger blocs will be formed to strip the Islamists of the power to pass on new laws and policies,” Rantawi said. According to article 93 and 95 in the constitution10 deputies can propose a law but a majority must prove it.

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Analysts say that the group viewed the elections as an opportunity to prove that it has grassroots support among Jordanian voters, as well as opening channels of communication with the state.

“The Jordanian government will have to deal with the Brotherhood as a reality, as they practise their legislative and supervisory role. They will be holding meetings with politicians and asking the government tough questions,” Rakan Saaydah, a Jordanian journalist and commentator on the group, told al-Jazeera.

Tensions between the government and the Brotherhood have escalated since the closure of the group’s branch last April. In 2014, the Jordanian government issued a new law requiring all organisations and political parties to register or renew their licences.

Following this development, in March 2015, about a dozen members of the Muslim Brotherhood were expelled because they wanted the organisation to distance itself from its international affiliations.

They founded their own group, the government-licensed “Muslim Brotherhood Society”, which many believe has the backing of the Jordanian regime in order to undermine the original Muslim Brotherhood, established in 1945. 

As an early sign of a thaw in the relations between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood, Queen Rania welcomed the group’s participation in the elections in a recent interview. The group immediately responded by welcoming the Queen’s remarks.

This year, Jordan made significant changes to its electoral law, replacing the controversial one-person-one-vote system with a list-based system designed to encourage political parties. 

The new law, however, stirred tension among Jordan’s tribes by forcing them to compete against one another in a complicated candidate list system. “This law is a lot worse than the old one-vote system. It has created resentment between tribes as each tribe started competing to vote for its own candidates within the list,” said former MP Mazen Dalaeen, who ran as a tribal candidate.

According to Dalaeen, approximately 10 tribes across Jordan had more than one representative in the parliament whereas some did not have any, which could “create resentment and tension in the future”.

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Low turnout as polls close in Jordan

A lack of trust in the electoral process was reflected by the national law turnout as 1.5 million out of 4.1 million registered voters cast their ballots. Reports about vote buying and election rigging and interference by security forces in previous elections may have swayed many Jordanians from voting.  

“They should just appoint MPs and stop this show called election,” Ahmad Quran, a Jordanian citizen who did not participate in elections, told al-Jazeera. “Prices of food and taxes have been soaring while the corrupt are stealing from us. What did the parliament do to hold them accountable?” Quran added.

However, some remain optimistic that the “transparent” election, as well as the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in parliament, could be one small step forward.

“The majority [of MPs] might have a tribal affiliation, but the fact that they were not supported by the state might give them a sense of freedom inside the parliament to oppose government policies,” Saaydah said.

Source: Al Jazeera