Full Spectrum Jordan: The Case for Good Timing

parliament lower house
(Photo: Twitter/X)
The upcoming parliamentary elections should happen on time and not be delayed. The arguments for delaying are weak, and the consequences for delay are detrimental.اضافة اعلان

Rumors abound on how the upcoming parliamentary elections may be delayed due to the tragedy of Gaza, the rise of certain parties, the lack of preparedness of parties, or any number of reasons. Talk to a party leader or a politico or one of these ‘election experts,’ and they will say the elections may be pushed for some time. But there is not a government quote saying this is going to happen.

Reporting on speculation is not useful, but the idea of delaying elections should be quashed unless force majeure or a future crisis forces it.

Three things you should know:
A crisis within a crisis:
Voter turnout in Jordan has usually been low. In the last parliamentary election, it was 29.9%, and this was after keeping the polls open two hours longer in a final push to raise turnout. Research shows low voter intention, lack of knowledge about elections, and extremely low trust in Parliament and (previously) political parties. Experience with vote-buying by certain candidates also weakens trust in the electoral process.

In addition to the lack of trust in elections, youth are politically apathetic overall. Frustrated with a system where they feel they have no voice, Jordanian youth operate outside of the “system.” They found ‘governance by other means’ as I have written before. This skepticism of representation is even darker when looking at international institutions as youth now face the weakness of the UN, the silence of the international community, and the support for Israel's actions by partners like Germany. So, youth avoid around the domestic system and feel betrayed by the global system.

Research shows how populism and international engagement are globally mutually exclusive. As public disillusionment about the objectivity of the global system combines with the trust deficit in domestic institutions like parliament or the judiciary - then we have an open opportunity for the rise of populism. Jordan would not be unique. We see the rise of populism throughout Europe and in parts of Asia and Latin America (and everywhere online). For Jordan, this could be angry expats on Facebook spreading nationalist populism, malign misinformation, or those blaming years-long issues like Captagon on Gaza in order to advance divisive narratives.

Now, as Jordan is witnessing an erosion of trust not only in domestic institutions but in the international order, it should expect a rise in populism. Toxic populism would hinder our journey towards an inclusive, representative, and prosperous Jordan. This means our own national security is intertwined with political space, political parties, and elections.

The state of parties:
Before October, we had 29 registered parties, some of which had no experience, few resources, and no communication skills. After October, 27 of those 29 parties were engaged in protests and Gaza solidarity campaigns. These parties had newfound audiences, allies, social media skills, media coverage, and followers.

One result is that the parties are not being shaped by gradual public engagement and internal organizational building. They are competing in the heat of street politics and intense social media presence. Currently, slogans work better than platforms, loud voices gather more attention than experienced voices, and clever online posts are more effective than informed ones.

For the upcoming elections, we could see more protest parties instead of representative parties. We could see more demands of what the government should do, instead of demands of what the people need. It is an important nuance.

Campaigns can be the trial that lets the public choose if the protest rhetoric or the representative rhetoric should get into Parliament. There is a high chance we get both. In that case, the four years of Parliament become the trial for the parties. Can they deliver anything? Do they engage the public? Or will they always rely on protest rhetoric and never hold themselves accountable for results.

Parliament will still be about policy, bureaucracy, alliances, and governing. Let all the parties compete while the public is engaged. Let them argue how they will successfully navigate the bureaucracy and policymaking. Let them show how they can hold the government to account. Let them show how they understand the challenges facing the average Jordanian.

The parties have recently grown in protest. Let them now prepare for the trial of the campaign and the work of government. And let them do it on time while the public is engaged, instead of delaying and risk repeating the waltz of reforms.

The Reform Waltz:
Jordan has a long history of attempted reforms - especially the election law and youth initiatives. All of these steps ultimately result in a circular return to where we were - a waltz. All of these changes have created a sense of exasperation and then apathy. The political modernizations were long in the making. Stemming from previous writings by His Majesty, put into a 92-person committee headed by former PM Samir Al-Rifai, and published in a 200-page booklet. Since then there have been legal changes, institutional changes, and civic education. Parties have been formed, reformed, merged, and developed. While some were skeptical of another reform cycle in Jordan, the high political will and immediate implementation wiped away this cynicism - so far.

A postponed election after all this work will only mean increased distrust in institutions and government overall. While some state officials might blame consistent low turnout or an increasingly apathetic youth - the reality is much more dire and consequential to Jordan’s future. There are multiple studies on the implications of distrust in government; some studies have found that apathy and cynical attitudes easily spill over into uncontrolled behavior (civil disobedience, protest, corruption, and overall apathy). In Jordan, we already see signs of this spillover. Research shows youth believe the most effective ways to influence the government are protest, civil disobedience, and social media activism - not voting and formal politics. Additionally, polling shows youth growing more socially conservative and distrustful of government institutions than previous generations.

This electoral introduction of the political modernizations determines if this is a forward movement of including youth in our government or just another step in the waltz.

My Take:
Jordan is on the frontline of many regional and international crises. Regional unrest affects Jordan directly, as we see now with the war on Gaza, and as we have seen with Syria, which ushered in Iranian expansion, resulting in a rise of armed and violent narco-trafficking groups on our borders. Cyber threats and climate change are also endangering our domestic stability and security. These myriad threats make it absolutely obvious that we must pour our resources and focus on solidifying our domestic front. Domestic solidarity and engagement create a defense.

Two generations of Jordanians have been “left behind” by globalization. Jordanian youth have arguably been largely left out economically of a hyper-globalized world. Inequality has increased. Water scarcity increases. Jordanians are now witnessing a shifting global order, (due to AI, climate, Gaza, Ukraine, partisan global media) - a world order that used to ignore them they now perceive as working “against them” (especially on Gaza). They feel increasingly pushed further away from international institutions (this is not unique to Jordan). Within this position of apathy towards domestic politics, we blend distrust and disdain for global engagement and we get a youth populace that is apathetic, resentful, defensive, and pessimistic about their futures.

Without genuine inclusion in political representation, without youth engagement, without rebuilding trust, we risk losing these “left behind” generations to populist, malign, and unfriendly neighboring or international players.

Making political parties, more specifically party platforms and visions, the breathing space for disengaged and angry youth is the first step. But the parties are not advocacy groups or CSOs. They need a campaign (for outreach) and elected seats (for inclusion).

Now would be a unique moment to bring our youth back. Youth are currently actively following events, out in the street, participating in consumer actions like boycotts, allied with political groups (even if just on this one issue). It happens to be the same moment we have substantively changed our systems to be more inclusive and more representative. It could be a great match, and such an alignment of opportunities may not come again soon. A strategically timed election could catch this momentum and integrate into a prolonged campaign period where parties present their visions for Jordan and compete (or ally in coalitions).

Katrina Sammour was first published on Full Spectrum Jordan, a weekly newsletter on SubStack. 

Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Jordan News' point of view.

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