Election and changes in the electoral system in Jordan: Perspectives for changes ?

By Chloé de Radzitzky

The Muslim Brotherhood are back on the front of the Jordanian political stage by obtaining 15 seats in the elections of the 20th of September[1]. Those are the first elections since the implementation of the new electoral law. If the key-objective was to re-popularize the elections in the eyes of the Jordanian population, this one remains resolutely skeptical. Indeed, only 29 % of the Jordanians interviewed by International Republican Institute declared to trust the legislative organ[2]. Nevertheless Jordan, by opposition to other monarchies in the Middle East, is considered as organizing free and fair elections[3]. The causes of skepticism are therefore to be found somewhere else.

The Islamist party of the Muslim Brotherhood had stopped participating the elections since 2010 to protest against the electoral system of “Single non-Transferable vote » (SNTV)[4]. This system was introduced in 1989 by King Hussein, after the Brothers won a frank victory. The SNTV has the characteristic to disadvantage big political parties

This electoral law changed in 2016 into a system of list, allowing the transfer of vote and facilitating the representation of political parties/various ideological groups to the Parliament. However, numerous citizens expressed their lack of confidence regarding the legislative organ despite the change of system. To understand the reasons of this distrust, it is necessary to look at several elements, in particular: the nature of the Jordanian political system, the relations of clientelism, as well as the influence of the tribalism on voting behavior.

Jordan is a constitutional monarchy in which power is concentrated in the hands of king. For example, that is him who appoints and chooses the Prime Minister who, after that, chooses the members of his cabinet and allocates portfolios. This process is made without granting a specific attention to the results of the elections[5]. The Parliament can nevertheless influence this process by voting for confidence and non-confidence motions. This power remains however very thin compared to the ability of king to dissolve the parliament; a scenario which happened in 2001.

In addition to the fact that the parliament is only residual with regard to the powers of king, the representatives have not real legislative powers. Actually, the Senate has a power of veto in Jordan[6]. Moreover the elected representatives are not especially elected for their political program or for their politician’s quality. This is due to what Ellen Lust calls the ‘ competitive clientelism [7]‘. The citizens are aware that their vote will not really influence the legislative process. They therefore elect more easily a candidate who will give them access to certain resources and State’s benefits. It seems however that the Jordanian elected representatives do not perform any more this function of access to the state resources. Indeed, a taxi driver told to a journalist having voted during the previous elections for a candidate who had given him his phone number; and guaranteed him that he could call him in case of problem. The driver declared after:  » once elected, he closed his mobile during four years [duration of the legislature, the editor’s note] and when I went to his home, his son told me:  » dad is not there!  » « [8].

Finally, a last factor contributing to weaken the credibility of the representatives is the importance of the tribal and personal networks to be elected. Indeed, a candidate has more chances to be elected thanks to his personal network than because of the quality of its political program. The tribal membership remains one of the main determiners of the behavior of votes in Jordan. It is frequent that the tribal leaders distribute sheep, or organize of big banquets on the eve of the elections[9].

In spite of the return of the Islamists to the parliament with 15 seats, analysts judge that it will not bring big changes into dynamics of powers. Indeed, Rantawi, director of the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, considers that « Stronger blocs will be formed to strip the Islamists of the power to pass on new laws and policies ». These elections are more considered as a way for the Islamists to show their popular legitimacy as well as a way to open communication channels with the State[10].


[1] Aljazzera http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/jordan-parliament-spearhead-political-change-160926054613800.html

[2] Aljazzera http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/jordan-parliament-spearhead-political-change-160926054613800.html

[3] Herb, M 2004, ‘Princes and Parliaments in the Arab World’, Middle East Journal, 3, p. 367, JSTOR Journals, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 October 2016.

[4] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/jordan-parliament-spearhead-political-change-160926054613800.html

[5] Lust, E 2009, ‘Competitive Clientelism in the Middle East’, Journal Of Democracy, 3, p. 122, Project MUSE, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 October 2016.

[6] Lust, E 2009, ‘Competitive Clientelism in the Middle East’, Journal Of Democracy, 3, p. 122, Project MUSE, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 October 2016.

[7] Lust, E 2009, ‘Competitive Clientelism in the Middle East’, Journal Of Democracy, 3, p. 122, Project MUSE, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 October 2016.


[8]  http://www.liberation.fr/planete/2016/09/19/en-jordanie-les-tribus-et-l-argent-font-l-election_1502785

[9]  http://www.liberation.fr/planete/2016/09/19/en-jordanie-les-tribus-et-l-argent-font-l-election_1502785

[10] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/jordan-parliament-spearhead-political-change-160926054613800.html