Royal committee proposes sweeping electoral, political reforms

King Royal Committee 1
His Majesty King Abdullah meets with the chairperson, Samir Al-Rifai, and members of the Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System and receives its final recommendations at the conclusion of its mandate, on October 3, 2021. (Photos: Royal Court)
AMMAN  — Several suggested reforms to the electoral system in Jordan, including lowering the age of candidacy to 25, setting spending limits on election adverts, adopting a closed list proportional system (voting for a party as a whole rather than a single candidate), and insisting electoral lists must have at least one candidate no older than 35, were announced on Sunday.اضافة اعلان

The Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System was entrusted by His Majesty King Abdullah in June to develop the country’s political and parliamentary ecosystem, and has proposed two drafts for new elections and political parties laws, in addition to other recommendations related to local governance and women and youth empowerment, according to the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

The committee proposed the adoption of an electoral law with a mixed electoral system with two levels of representation: one at the national level dubbed “the general constituency,” and another at the local level dubbed “local constituencies”.

The proposed bill would divide the Kingdom into 18 local electoral districts and one general district. It also recommended that the Lower House should have 138 members.

In the general constituency, at least two seats are allocated to Christians and at least one seat to Jordanians of Circassian and Chechen descent. To promote the participation of youth and women in political life, the law lowered the age of candidacy to 25 years, and stipulated that an electoral list must commit to having a young man or young woman no older than 35 among the top five candidates.

The proposed law also obligates lists at the general district level to have at least one female candidate among the top three candidates, and at least one female candidate among the other three candidates.

The proposed law divides the Amman Governorate into three districts, Irbid Governorate into two districts, and an electoral district for each of the rest of the Kingdom’s governorates, as well as three districts for the Badia populations.

Among local constituencies, at least seven seats are allocated to Christians and at least two seats to Jordanians of Circassian and Chechen descent. The number of candidates for the local constituency must not exceed the number of seats allotted to the constituency, and must not be less than two candidates. Women’s representation would also be increased by one seat for each constituency.

The draft law proposed that candidates for seats reserved for women, Christians, or Jordanians of Circassian and Chechen descent in local districts must choose the candidacy path they desire: quota or free competition.
The draft law would oblige the Independent Election Commission to provide real time polling results on its website, which would be made available to all citizens.

In addition to setting a spending ceiling for electoral advertising across electoral districts, the committee proposed that each citizen’s electoral district should be determined by their permanent address of residence.

Political Parties Law

The Royal committee suggested that the number of applicants required to establish a political party should be no less than 300.

The draft would also give political parties an opportunity to develop, until the founding conference of the party is held within a period not exceeding one year. Parties, at the time of founding, must have at least 1,000 members who are residents of at least six governorates.

The draft law also stipulates that young people between 18 and 35 should comprise at least 20 percent of a party’s founding members. It also stipulates that women should make up at least 20 percent of founding members, and that at least one member should be a person with disabilities. The majority of the founding members must be present at the conference to establish a party.

The recommended bill would also grant students that are members of a party the right to practice all partisan activities on their campus without any prejudice or restriction of those rights, provided that a special bylaw is issued to regulate such activities.

The draft law proposes the establishment of a neutral “party registry” department within the Independent Election Commission to ensure transparency and independence regarding party affairs.

The law also proposes that contributions from the state’s general budget be allowed, provided that the conditions for providing support, its amount, aspects, and procedures for disbursal are specified in a bylaw.

The proposals stipulated that the secretary-general of any party may not hold this position for more than two consecutive terms and that a term can be no longer than four years.

The proposals affirmed the right of parties to form a coalition to contest parliamentary or other elections.

Proposed amendments

Regarding the Constitution, the committee suggested adding two paragraphs on empowering youth and women to Article 6 of the Constitution. It also called for the amendment of the fifth paragraph of Article 6, with the aim of strengthening the legal protection of persons with disabilities and increasing their participation in the political, economic, social, cultural, and other aspects of life.

It also recommended amending the number of MPs required to call the Lower House to a vote from the current requirement of 10 members to 25 percent of the members of the House.

The committee proposed amendments to include a stipulation that a prime minister whose government has lost a vote of confidence in the Parliament may not be assigned to form the next government.

The amendments also propose that 25 percent of the members of the Senate or members of the Lower House may resort to the Constitutional Court to request an interpretation of a law and regulation, or to directly challenge their constitutionality, instead of a majority of either houses.

The committee also proposed that the resignation of any member of the House of Representatives be considered effective from the date of its submission, without the need for the approval of the House.

It also called for the term of the speaker of the House to be one year instead of two, and to give other members of the House the right to choose and annually evaluate the performance of the speaker.

A constitutional article was proposed requiring that ownership of gifts, in cash or in-kind, given to a member of the Senate or the House because of their membership shall be transferred to the state Treasury.

The amendments stipulate that parliamentary immunity should be limited to arrest and not trial.

The committee also recommended requiring that two-thirds of the present members of the Senate and Lower House approve the laws regulating elections, political parties, the judiciary, the Independent Election Commission, the Audit Bureau, and the Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission. These laws are currently approved by a majority.

Local administration

As for the recommendations related to legislation regulating local administration, the committee called for a phased, transitional approach to reach a good local governance, capable of carrying out the tasks of local development and services independently and effectively, based on programs chosen by citizens through free and fair elections.

The first phase of the plan includes building the capacities of those elected and appointed in the governorates and municipalities, and improving the quality of services in the areas. The committee also proposed reducing the age of candidacy for local councils to 22 years old instead of 25, and increasing the quota for women to at least 30 percent of seats, in addition to allocating a seat for persons with disabilities at the governorate and municipal levels.

During a second phase, regional councils would be created to be the supreme elected bodies for local administration.

Financial decentralization

The committee also made a number of recommendations related to financial decentralization, such as dedicating a special chapter to the budget of each governorate in the General Budget Law, and transferring administrative and financial powers to the governorates so they become responsible for preparing and implementing their own budgets.

Additionally recommended was opening a special account for the provincial councils in the Cities and Villages Development Bank, to which the provinces’ budget allocations are transferred directly after the approval of the General Budget Law, in order to prevent the budgets allocated to the provinces from not being disbursed as a result of the Cabinet seizing any portion of them.

Youth empowerment

The committee said that it reached a set of recommendations related to youth empowerment, covering four life stages, each of which has different psychological, cultural, social, economic, and political characteristics.

Among other aims, the recommendations seek to ensure 50-50 representation between young men and women in programs aimed at developing young people’s skills.

Among the recommendations related those 12 to 15 years old is to ensure that basic education is compulsory and that focus is placed on quality education and an increase in the number of schools dedicated to technical and vocational education.

This is in addition to offering courses on civic education, democratic culture, the values of tolerance, citizenship, and political participation, and training teachers.

As for the recommendations related to the age group between 16 and 18 years old, they include the formation of municipal councils of adolescents, with a representative from each school in the municipal council and within the geography of the municipality, and an increased focus on technology.

The committee called for offering courses on political and constitutional culture and the history of Jordanian democracy, focusing on the discussion papers of His Majesty King Abdullah, and introducing the most prominent national figures who contributed to building the state.

It also called for the Ministry of Education’s plans to highlight principles and concepts of human rights, good morals, values of pluralism and tolerance, and the rights and issues of persons with disabilities.

For the age group between 19 and 22 years old, the committee urged public and private universities to allocate budgets for student unions and councils with the aim of holding extracurricular activities on campus and in accordance with the financial bylaw of each university.

As for the age group between 23 and 35 years, the committee recommended launching a national program to empower young candidates for elected councils, involve young people in the boards of trustees of universities, government bodies, and government boards of directors.

Increased funding for civil society institutions

The committee also called for increasing government funding for civil society institutions that specialize in empowering youth politically and economically, and facilitating procedures for obtaining funding from donors in accordance with the applicable regulations and instructions.

The committee developed a set of recommendations to empower women under three themes: institutional and procedural mechanisms, public policies, legislative frameworks, economic environment, social environment, and intellectual patterns.

Among the recommendations related to institutional and procedural mechanisms and public policies, is the creation of a constitutional guarantee to empower women, enhance their participation in public life, and protect them from all forms of discrimination.

This is in addition to the request from the government and the Legislation and Opinion Bureau to use gender-sensitive language when preparing draft laws, regulations, and instructions.

The committee also called for instructing the Ministerial Committee for the Empowerment of Women to conduct a review of all legislation that includes discrimination against women, as defined by the National Strategy for Women 2020–2025, and to amend it by adopting a participatory approach that ensures the effective participation of all concerned parties.

The committee suggested creating a legal framework for a previous decision regarding the benefits granted to children of Jordanian mothers by including the decision in the Residency and Foreigners Affairs Law.

The committee also recommended the adoption of incentives, such as tax exemptions, to encourage the employment of women in the private sector and to criminalize harassment in the workplace, and strengthen the capacities of the Ministry of Labor’s inspectors to ensure that employers comply with the provisions of the law.

With regard to social protection policies, the committee recommended that data on poverty rates be available in society to ensure responsive planning, that national registries be developed and that female breadwinners be recognized and given the opportunity to benefit from social protection programs.

The full report from the Royal Committee for the Modernization of the Political System, proposed legislation, findings and recommendations, can be found on the website:

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