The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan holds a strategic location in the Middle East, sharing borders with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel and the West Bank. Since Hussein bin Talal became King of Jordan in 1952 democratic institutions were introduced. After his death in 1999, Hussein’s oldest son, Abdullah, succeeded the throne. In his position as Chief of State, Abdullah has followed a policy of continuing his father's paternalistic style of rule from a moderate, pro-West political viewpoint, claiming to gradually evolve the political landscape in Jordan from an autocratic state into a democracy with political pluralism. However, this notion is fiercely contested by the opposition, which regards the king’s policies as anti-democratic and speaks of a deteriorating political situation. The extensive history of clans and tribes that traditionally comprise the majority in the parliament and the lack of freedom of press are among the main challenges that hinder a democratic reform in Jordan. At the same time, the protracted people’s unrest against rising prices, corruption, and unemployment, inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and calling for the genuine constitutional reform, has challenged the Hashemite Monarchy’s order. Furthermore, protesters have been demanding full rights for women and calling for gender equality.
Jordan is a constitutional monarchy, and the laws are based on Islamic law and French codes. The constitution was first proclaimed on 8 January 1952, and has since been amended several times to meet the Kingdom’s changing needs. The government consists of Chief of State (the King), the executive Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, and the legislative National Assembly with two chambers: the House of Deputies and the Senate.
The King has the main power in Jordan and the monarch’s function is hereditary. The monarch has the power to appoint the Prime Minister and the Senate, and dissolve the House of Deputies at any time. Furthermore, the King is not obliged to appoint a Prime Minister or form a government from either the majority party or the Parliament, and currently prefers to rely on his own loyal supporters instead. Besides, the King signs and executes all laws. He appoints and may dismiss judges by decree, approve amendments to the constitution, declare war, and command the armed forces. His veto power can only be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the National Assembly.
There has been sharp criticism leveled at Abdullah that he and his Jordanian regime restrict freedom of speech due to his amendment to the Jordanian Penal Code, to ensure the legislation of the punishment of all those who express dissent. Human rights organizations have criticized Abdullah and his regime for several human rights violations and acts of torture committed against Islamic radicals and those who express dissent and criticism over his policies. The 2011 people’s unrest characterized by relatively peaceful demonstrations have challenged the power of the throne by calling, in particular, on the King to relinquish his power to appoint prime ministers and to provide the parliament with more functions.
The Prime Minister
The Prime Minister is appointed by the King and does not serve a fixed term. After the King’s mandate, the Prime Minister has the highest executive role. The Prime Minister has one or two Deputy Prime Ministers under his lead and forms the Cabinet in consultation with the monarch. As Jordan lacks organized political parties which enjoy parliamentary majorities or form coalition governments, the monarch usually picks up PMs out of people with distinguished records in the public life to form the cabinet.
Over the last decade, the King has changed the government many times. Samir Rifai was appointed as Prime Minister on 2 December 2009. In January 2011, following large popular street protests, organized by Islamic and leftist groups and inspired by similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, Samir Rifai resigned from the government. The protesters accused PM Rifai of being insensitive to their economic hardships. Rifai was replaced by Marouf Bakhit, a former Prime Minister, who was also a prominent figure in the peace process between Israel and Jordan, which led to the 1994 peace treaty. However, his government failed to tackle a number of important domestic policy areas. On 16 October 2011 Awn al-Khaswaneh, a former royal court chief and legal adviser to Jordan's peace negotiators, was appointed to replace Bakhit as Prime Minister. After Awn al-Khaswaneh on 26 April 2012 resigned out of discord with the King on the pace of reforms, Fayez Tarawneh was appointed to take over his position. After the general elections in January 2013, King Abdullah reappointed Ensour as prime minister on 9 March 2013. He was succeeded by Hani-Al Mulki beginning of June 2016. Mulki has also been appointed by the King to head the government after the elections of 20th October. One of his biggest challenges is to manage Israeli-Jordanian relations.
The Upper House (Majlis al-Ayan) forms one half of the national legislature, the other being the House of Deputies. The Senate consists of 65 seats, and members are appointed by the monarch from designated categories of public figures and long-serving politicians. The required age for membership is 40 years. The Senate advises the House of Deputies on general policies, and together the two chambers can curb the King’s powers. It is in general a respected institute, with a large influence in the public domain. The Senate serves for a four-year term, and was lastly renewed in November 2010. Membership term in the Senate is four years, renewable by the King. Current president of the Senate is former prime minister Faisal al-Fayez.
The House of Deputies
The House of Deputies (the House of Representatives) is the only political organ that is directly elected by the Jordan citizens through universal adult suffrage. It is elected for a 4 years term, unless the monarch dissolves it earlier. From a total of 130 seats, 15 seats are reserved for women, 9 for Christians candidates, and 3 for Jordanians of Chechen or Circassian descent, according to the enacted Electoral Law of 2016. The Parliament has the right to approve, reject or amend legislation proposed by the cabinet. However, it is limited in its ability to initiate legislation and it cannot enact laws without the assent of the Senate. Most of the representatives in the House of Deputies are not affiliated to a party. This is a result of the clan history of the country, combined with the long period in which political parties were illegal. Political parties were abolished in April 1957. Only in 1992 Jordan did return to a multi-party system with a new Political Parties Law. In 1993 a single-member-district system was introduced, favouring tribal and family ties over political and ideological affiliations.
After a period of 22 years, in 1989 the first elections were held in Jordan under King Hussein’s rule. The official ban on political parties from 1957 remained, but candidates ranged ideologically from the extreme left to the extreme right. Most of these independent candidates formed loosely organized blocs. Analysts state that these blocs were predominantly organized along tribal and family ties, instead of along political or ideological affiliations. Nevertheless, Islamists won 22 out of 80 parliamentary seats in the 1989 elections, a fact that motivated the King to initiate a policy of electoral de-liberalization with the aim of decreasing the influence of Islamists on Jordan’s politics. Thus, a new 2001 Election Law introduced a controversial ‘one man, one vote’ electoral system, known as ‘single non-transferable vote system’. This system envisaged the redistribution of parliamentary seats, meaning that citizens vote for one candidate in their own district, with seats being awarded to the highest-polling individual candidates compatible with the number of seats in the district.
In 2010, a new temporary electoral law was unveiled, designed to set the ground rules for the 2010 parliamentary elections. It preserved the ‘single non-transferable vote system’ and also changed the current electoral districts to electoral "zones", each of which is broken down into multiple sub-districts.
After heated debates in the parliament, on 22 June 2012, the first permanent election law since 1989 was approved by a Royal Decree. Each voter was given two votes, one for a candidate at the district level and another for the closed proportional list. Compared to the former ‘single non-transferrable vote system’, this system created a new electoral culture because each voter was able to pick a list of five candidates in his or her constituency.
2016 Election Law
During the run up towards the 2016 parliamentary elections, a new Election Law was introduced. For the first time, the Election Law adopted the concept of proportional representation on the national level to pave the way for the emergence of political blocs and coalitions. In other words, the controversial one-person-one-vote system was replaced with a list-based system designed to encourage political parties. Another new aspect in the law is that registration for the elections is not optional. Therefore, the number of eligible voters rose to 4,130,142 from 2,288,043 in the 2013 elections. In addition, the introduction of the Election Law saw a reduction in the number of seats in the Lower House from 150 to 130, while the women's quato remained at 15. It has been criticized for leaving intact a voting system that favors sparsely populated tribal East Bank constituencies over the densely populated cities mostly inhabited by Jordanians of Palestinian descent, which are Islamic strongholds and highly politicized. For example, in one constituency in the city of Zarqa, 450,000 eligible voters who usually back Islamists have only six parliamentary seats. By contrast, in the southern tribal town of Maan, 59,000 voters choose four members of parliament. More than two-thirds of Jordan’s seven million people live in cities but are allocated less than a third of assembly seats.
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Parliamentary elections 2016
On 20 October 2016 parliamentary elections were held in Jordan. The candidates stood mostly as independents, their loyalties rooted not in political parties but in tribal and family allegiances. Results showed the main opposition party, the Islamic Action Front based National Coalition for Reform, gained 15 seats. Eight other poltical parties won 15 seats including the Islamist party Zamzam (five seats), the National Current Party (four seats), the Islamic Centrist Party (five seats) and the Justice and Reform Party (two seats). The Baath, Communist, National Union and Al Awn parties wone one seat each. However, the majority of the newly elected MPs were either individuals with tribal affiliations or businessmen, as had been the case during the past two decades. The percentage of government critics in this parliament is lower than in the previous. The voter turnout was 36,1%. The voting was observed by thousands of local and international observers. The Independent Elections Commission (IEC), created under the Electoral Law in 2012, was appointed to observe and supervise the parliamentary elections for the second time, in order to guarantee free and transparent elections.
Turnout and voting process
Observers stated that the turnout for these parliamentary elections was 37 percent at the national level, with Amman recording the lowest at around 23 percent and the Southern Badia the highest at around 84 percent. This was considerably lower than the previous elections in 2013. This could be explained by the fact that registration for the elections is not optional anymore. Therefore, the number of eligible voters rose to 4,130,142 from 2,288,043 in the 2013 elections. Observers from the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) said it was a well administrated election, although room for additional improvement of the legal framework remains. In particular, respect for key principles, such as the universality and equality of the vote, and the right to stand as candidate could be further enhanced. Furthermore, under the current districting, large urban areas are underrepresented and sparsely populated or rural areas are considered overrepresented. Overall, the campaign was peaceful, with isolated reports of minor campaign related incidents. There was considerable campaigning outside the polling stations on the election day, which is not in line with the law. Opening and counting proceeded peacefully and calmly and voting was generally well organized in 441 out 459 polling stations visited. Although no specific restrictions on electoral media coverage were observed, Jordanian media operated in an environment considered as partially free. The current media legal framework, restrictive and at times vague, results in self-censorship.
New during this elections was the participation of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Jordan’s main political opposition. It boycotted the last two elections to protest the previous election laws. This year, it decided to participate in the election, because of the introduction of the party lists. It formed 20 lists running under Al Islah bloc, or the National Coalition of Reform, which includes Christian members of other political parties and tribal leaders. The IAF managed to get 15 seats in the newly elected parliament, though it is unlikely that representation of the IAF is going to cause any dramatic change in the country’s political atmosphere. The comeback of Jordan’s best organized opposition has left secular rivals fearing the revival of Islamism in a contest where national politics has taken a back seat. They have responded by demanding the separation of politics and religion and attacking political Islam.
Representation of women and minorities
20 women won seats in the parliament. Of these woman, 15 won a seat because of the state-set quota for women. The other women won their seat by defeating their male candidates. The Christian minority have 9 state-set seats, while there are 3 seats reserved for the Circassian and Chechen communities.
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Political parties have developed since the Political Party Law of 1992, when the martial law prohibiting the existence of political parties was withdrawn by the King. Political branches became more various than the old traditional political parties in the 1950s. Concerning the leftist oriented parties in Jordan, most of them originated from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which were present on the Jordanian scene. Some leftist parties are still Leninist or Marxist in their orientation, whilst others have moved away from sheer communist thoughts, some evolving into social democratic parties. However, many failed to continue political activity after the Political Parties Law of that prohibited political parties. While some political parties have encountered difficulties and failed to fulfill the obligations, set out by the Political Parties Law of 2008, others have managed to registrate.
The Islamic Action Front
Leader: Mohamed Zyoud
The Islamic Action Front (IAF) was founded in 1992, at the very beginning of the renewed political party life in Jordan. It is the country’s largest party, and since 92% of the Jordan population is Sunni Muslim, it relies on a large grassroots support. The party has always had strong ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the only political segment that was operating legally during the period of martial law. The Islamic Action Front’s principles are equal to those articulated in the Islamic law: the Sharia. Since its foundation it has always had many seats in the parliament, except for 1997, 2010 and 2013 when they boycotted the elections. In 2006 a massive fragmentation of the IAF took place, which led to internal divisions. During the parliamentary elections in 2003, the party gained 18 out of 110 seats, in 2007 – 6 out of 110. IAF did not get any seats in the 2010 election as it boycotted the elections calling for the abolishment of ‘one man, one vote’ electoral system. In the parliamentary elections of 2013, the party reiterated its former statement. In the 2016 elections, the party participated and gained 15 mandates for the Jordanian parliament, as part of the broad Coalition of National Reform.
Leader: Abed al-Majid al-Thnibat
Zamzam or "National Building Initiative" was officially launced in 2012 by moderate Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood and other political figures, who made proposals to address the challenges facing the Kingdom. The Zamzam founders say that they are trying to break down the duopoly of the regime versus the Brotherhood, which has dominated both local and regional politics, and create a third way toward achieving political reform.
Zamzam was officialy establised as a political party in 2016. Leaders of the initiative described it as "civil, nonaligned, inclusive and of purely national goals resting on the principles of democracy and the rule of law". They also stressed that the party is "flexible and capable of attraciting people of experience, beyond from religious, ideological, geographical, tribal and political alliances." It could be seen as the former liberal faction of the IAF, while at the same time it has a more nationalist agenda. The Zamzam Party won 5 seats at the October 2016 elections.
National Current Party
Leader: Saleh Rsheedat
The party was founded in 2009 and emphasizes strengthening the values of national belonging, political loyalty, equality, moderation, and tolerance as its goals. The party stands for a greated political reform via developing governance mechanisms as well as conciliation between security policies versus freedom and protection of citizens. National unity is stressed as the main objective. The National Currenty Party won 4 seats at the last elections.
The Muslim Centrist Party
Leader: Mohammed Hajj
This party, more moderate in its ideological position than the IAF, was founded in 2001. It includes former members of the IAF as well as independent Islamists. The party believes in dialogue as the basis of political activity within the party and in political and ideological pluralism. The Muslim Centre Party advocates the strengthening of democracy in Jordan. The party promotes pluralism, the separation of powers, and the freedom of the press. It also calls for the increasing political role of women in Jordan. Finally, the party is adamant about the creation of a Palestinian state. It has currently 5 seats in the Jordanian parliament.
Jordan National Union Party
Leader: Mohammad Al-Khushman
The Jordan National Union Party is a young, secular and democratic party, founded in 2012. Their goals are to establish the concept of democracy, to enable the parliament to do its duty in control and accountability legislation and to confirm the separation of powers and to ensure all kinds of freedom, like expression, assembly, the right to demonstrate and so on. The party won 1 seats at the last elections.
Al-Ba'ath Arab (Socialist/Progressive) Party
Leader progressive: Fu'ad Dabbour
Leader socialist: Mohammad Akram Al-Homsi
Established in 1950s, the party was strongest in Syria and Iraq. The party split into two competing branches, as it was re-formed and legally registered in 1993. The Baath Party was from the beginning a secular Arab nationalist party. This ideological branch advocates pan-Arab nationalism and Arab unity. The party’s economic dogma “Unity [Arab], Freedom [from colonialism], and Socialism” are still the keywords. "Unity" refers to Arab unity, "freedom" emphasizes freedom from foreign control and interference in particular, and "socialism" refers to what has been termed Arab Socialism rather than to Marxism. The party won 1 seat at the latest elections.
Communist Party of Jordan
Leader: Munir Hamarana
The party was founded in 1948. Its ideology is Communism and Marxism-Leninism.The party faced harsh repression from the Jordanian state in 1950s, when its leader was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. In 1953 the party was banned but continued to work in clandestine until 1993, when it was officially licensed. Meanwhile, the Party participated in the elections through the National Front in created in 1954.
The Hashed Party, Jordan Baath Party, the Jordan Communist Party and the National Unity Party formed a coalition to participate in the 2010 parliamentary elections, but failed to win any seats. The 2016 elections saw the return of the Communist Party to parliament with one seat.
Al Aawn National Party
Leader: Faisal Al Awar
The Al Awn Party was only established in 2015. The Secretary-General of the party is lawyer Faisal Al Awar.
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Hani Al-Mulki, born in 1951, is the current Prime Minister of Jordan. He served as an interim after the resignation of Abdullah Ensour in May 2016. After the parliamentary elections of 20 September 2016 he was formmaly appointed by King Abdullah II. Previously, Al-Mulki held several ministerial positions: water, energy, supplies, industy and foreign affairs. In addition, he served as Jordan's ambassador to Egypt and as Jordan's permanent representative at the Arab League. Before his designation as Prime Minister he was Chief Commissioner of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority. Al-Mulki holds a bachelor's degree in production engineering and a Masters and Doctoral degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Insitute.
Abdullah II bin al-Hussein
King of Jordan
Abdullah II bin al-Hussein, born on 30 January 1962, is the reigning King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He ascended the throne on 7 February 1999 after the death of his father King Hussein.
King Abdullah is of half-British and half-Hashemite descent. He was decreed Crown Prince on 24 January 1991. Given his mixed heritage, this was a contested decision. Nevertheless, Abdullah, who claims to be the 43rd generation descendant of the prophet Muhammad, became King Abdullah II, and is continuing the work of his father by investing in peace building. In 2010, King Abdullah was chosen as the 4th most influential Muslim in the world.
King Abdullah is married to Queen Rania of Jordan and they have four children.
BBC Country profile
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~ Hinnebusch, Raymond. ‘Globalization, State Formation and Generational Change: Foreing policy in Syria and Jordan.’ Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, No. 19 (2003)
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~ Sweiss, Shtweiwi, al-Attiyat. ‘Building Democracy in Jordan: Women’s political participation, political party life and democratic elections.’ IDEA and ANND (2005)