December 5 2022 1:31 PM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

Electing Amman’s mayor: Will Jordanians ever be ready?

Lina Shannak (2)
(Photo: Jordan News)

With the exception of Amman, Jordanian voters in every other municipality in Jordan can directly elect their mayors. After deliberating Greater Amman Municipality draft law, the Jordanian Parliament has recently voted against electing the mayor, treating “Amman” yet again as a different case that requires exceptional measures.اضافة اعلان

In 1999, people could directly elect mayors in other municipalities in the Kingdom. Islamists achieved a landslide victory in those elections, as 80 out of 100 Islamist candidates won seats at the time. Two years later, municipal councils were dissolved, and the law was later changed to allow for appointing half of the council members as well as the mayor. In 2007, the law was amended again, giving people their right to elect all council members and mayors back. The case of Amman, however, remained “exceptional”, as residents of the capital are still deprived of their right to elect all council members and the mayor.

Jordanian officials have long cited “local sensitivities” and used them as a pretext to delay any genuine political reform. Whether it is the mayor’s post or a parliamentarian government, observers of the local political landscape understand that the opposing discourse boils down to one main idea: Jordanians are not ready to practice democracy to the fullest, because many people will either vote for relatives or Islamists.

I personally find this discourse problematic for many reasons, mainly because it blames people for a status that has been carefully designed to remain that way. There was a time when Jordanians were ready for democracy and managed to form the first Parliamentarian government in the history of this country. In 1956, Suleiman Nabulsi formed a government, after his political party had secured plurality at the House of Representatives.

His government was dissolved the following year, and Jordan imposed martial laws for three decades. When “democracy was finally restored”, as history textbooks usually report, Jordanians managed to elect the 1989 Parliament, described by observers as one of the most powerful in the country’s history as it brought together political activists across the political spectrum. A few years later, Jordan switched gears and adopted the “one-man one-vote system”, which clearly sought to limit the representation of Islamists and the opposition in the Parliament.

Analysts have long argued that the “one-man one-vote” system ended whatever little democracy we had enjoyed. Against this backdrop, I find it surprising when Jordanian officials tell us either implicitly or explicitly that we are not ready to elect a qualified mayor, because we tend to elect “cousins” when they know more than anyone that the law was engineered to force people into that direction in the first place.

I find it bizarre too that their discourse would want me to be “grateful” for their efforts, as they protect the post of the mayor from the “Islamist threat”, when Islamists (lest we forget) are legally allowed to form political parties and practice any form of political activity in the country.

Having said that, I personally reject this discourse, and believe that the only way to be ready for full democracy is to actually practice it. The longer we wait, the harder it becomes.

Read More Opinion & Analysis