Full Spectrum Jordan: The People and The Parties: A Shared Opportunity

(File photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
Are you going to vote? For years I never heard this question asked. For me, family and friends, voting was a non-issue - there were no ‘undecided’ voters. Either people knew exactly the candidate they would vote for or they didn't vote. Those who voted usually did it because of family ties, family pressure to vote a certain way, or personal promises/guarantees. اضافة اعلان

However recently I've noticed some budding interest in voting, myself Included! This election is different in many ways, a redesigned parliament, redesigned parties, and redesigned districts. Because so much is redesigned, the entire process could be different. Parties have a lot of work ahead of them, and they need to win over thousands of voters or, frankly, many of the parties won't survive these next parliamentary elections. They will prioritize voter concerns, focus on youth issues, and by law include women in top spots. In short, inclusive groups that need to persuade the public in order to survive and enter an institution (Parliament) that now will advance national ideas and not just compete to divide the budget into services for their home districts. 

But we voters also have a responsibility. No matter what, political parties get several dozen seats in the next Parliament. The more of us vote, the more influence we have over which parties (and how many) parties make it. The fewer of us vote, the more likely that just a few large parties get in - less diversity in ideas, representation, and less legitimacy from citizen support. Once election day arrives, it is the voters who will decide if this modernization in democracy succeeds or fails. 

Three things you should know 
Grievances differ 
There is a common belief that ‘the people are angry’ or ‘the youth have lost faith’. In a way, this is true in Jordan and in the region. But the people are not just one entity with one grievance. The southern governorates are angrier, have much less trust in institutions, and feel disempowered. But their grievances are not necessarily the same as those in Irbid - angry about poor service delivery and feeling they are not represented. The economies and local cultures differ, the political representation differs (for example look at the number of members of Parliament per capita for Kerak versus Irbid), and the political history differs (more protest and civil disobedience in the south, more trade union activism in Irbid). 

And what about Amman? Last election, some areas of Amman had less than 12% turnout. Somehow as the price of cars in a neighborhood increases, the likelihood to vote decreases.  This is not just a Jordan problem. In many countries, those with more resources rely on government representation less, and so don’t exercise their right to vote. A pity. 

A lot of research and data on the perceptions of Jordanian voters exists. Any party which is not studying the resources available, in addition to talking with as wide a swath of citizens as possible, is set to lose.

The Hunger Games: Losers and winners 
Under the previous iteration of the political parties law, parties received 50,000 JOD just for renewing their registration. We had over fifty parties receiving this annually even though many were inactive! Under the new law, parties will not receive funding just for correctly submitting their registration documents, but based on the percentage of vote they win. The funding begins once they receive 1.25% of the votes cast. Then, a party needs 2.5% of the vote to win a seat in Parliament. They receive more funding for every seat won, and more if the winner is a woman or youth. This means that if we have the exact same number of votes as in 2020 - 1,387,698 - a party needs 17,346 votes just to make back any money from their campaigning. They will need 34,692 votes to win a seat in Parliament. That’s a lot considering the effort it took them to gather 1,000 signatures for registration. What if turnout is higher and 2 million citizens vote (over 40% turnout!) - then the party would need 30,000 votes to receive any funding and 50,000 votes to make it into Parliament!

This means that as parties campaign without initial funds, campaigning will be very targeted and mostly online. But online campaigns don’t take into account how grievances differ and can collapse into marketing. So, there will be a strong reliance on volunteers, but volunteers also need an incentive and a ‘reason to believe’. 

This next campaign is going to be very competitive between parties. It is almost impossible that 30 parties receive 2.5% of the vote and all make it in. Likely, many parties won’t even reach the 1.25% to get any funding - needing to shutter their doors due to lack of resources.

This first election for the new Parliament under the new party rules is a game of survival for many of these groups and by late 2024, they may not be around anymore. 

Parties are national campaigning is local
This is not a European style election of Conservatives versus Social Democrats, or right versus left. Parties have to persuade the public and they have more than one campaign to battle as voters ask three questions 1) Why should I vote for a party? 2) Out of thirty parties, why should I vote for yours? How do you all differ? And 3) Why should I bother voting at all?

This campaign is different for another reason - it changes our relationship to Parliament. If you have spent time with an MP their office lobbies are full of visitors and their phones are constantly ringing. These are usually requests for employment, assignments, scholarships, assistance, and benefits. This is because MPs can provide services and the way they keep their seats is providing enough favors and benefits to their voters. But parties won’t be able to do that. Majoritarian candidates will still provide services to specific districts. But parties provide a vision for the nation and can’t promise voters benefits - their role will be different so their campaigning needs to be different. A candidate for a party can’t promise a handful of jobs to voters, but sells an economic plan to create employment in the region. 

We all know the old campaigning of meeting with local leaders, making agreements, courting business leaders, and securing promises from local organizations. But for this new party campaigning, where promises of benefits are less persuasive, the majority of voters are under 30 and live in Amman, Zarqa, and Irbid. This has to be an urban youth focused campaign.

Many of our parties are not savvy in online communication. They sometimes post photos on Facebook, old men sitting around a table in a small room, smoking cigarettes, drinking tea, and eating cookies from small white plastic plates with captions about coordination on industrial development, or positions on tourism, or ways to redesign elections. Nothing would attract youth voters, or convince readers that those ideas will go any further, or that the men in that room could win seats in an election.

The parties will share a national vision, which encompasses the spectrum of voter concerns, and create a national network of like-minded citizens. But in order to persuade voters in those three questions mentioned above, the campaigning has to be local - focused on their areas, their grievances, and how the party platform would benefit people like them. If they don’t have a platform and can’t translate it into local priorities, the party may not make the 2.5% to get into Parliament. Any party which has not focused on platform, brand development, media strategy, and online campaigning is set to be one of these that don’t make it. 

My Take 
I would generally prefer to undergo dental surgery than do any government paperwork, with the exception of renewing my passport since it usually means I'm going on a vacation. I viewed voting as more paperwork.  Polling stations are usually held in a school building, a noisy crowd outside with men shouting, waste paper everywhere - there is nothing fun about voting. Research however shows that voter turnout can increase simply by adding a small attraction - a festive, social atmosphere. I’d be more inclined to go vote because it meant I can take my son out to a nice family-friendly event.

Of course, fun should not be our main concern but the consequences and the legacy we want to leave - the present we want to change and the future we desire. I am very surprised to find myself saying that this is an opportunity to get more voices in the system and bring change. I, and others, can be optimistic during a very cynical time globally in politics. 

A lot can happen between now and the election. A lot depends on the parties. If they fail to present platforms, and communicate to voters, this will deflate the energy around the changes. We also have a lot of responsibilities. We need to come together and decide on what we want and how we want it. We need to know our own identities and find which party matches it.

Importantly, we need to invest. It is easy to look at thirty parties, assumes many won’t make it, and decide to ‘wait and see’. But, of course, if we don’t put our energies behind the parties that actually understand and represent our interests, then of course they won’t make it. By pre-deciding that it is not worth our time, we are condemning the whole reform. 

We need local initiatives to make elections enjoyable, we need outreach from parties to make them informed, but most importantly we need to make our voices heard by investing in this moment, our future, and country.

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