Jordan is a constitutional monarchy, with its King holding most of the political power. The parliament is elected by the people, but proper campaigning has been difficult for opposition parties due to the country’s electoral laws. Since several reforms, elections became fairer and freer, as seen in the 2016 parliamentary elections. The candidates in the election stood mostly as independents, though the new election law made it also possible to run via party lists. The results showed most of the candidates elected in the 130-seated parliament were loyal to the government. The Islamic Action Front formed a broad coalition including Christians and Circassians. This "National Coalition for Reform" won 15 mandates, much lower than the expected 20-30 seats. The percentage of government critics in this parliament is lower than previously. Also, the voter turnout was much lower with only 36,1%, arguably because registration was not optional. The voting was observed by thousands of local and international observers. They reportedly noticed the still existing restrictions on media coverage and journalism, especially through laws and intimidation. The judicial system in Jordan is not independent and does not align with international standards. Foreign relations of the country are pro-Western, perceivable through the country’s historically close relations with the US and the UK. It is part of the Arab League and has signed several peace agreements, as, for example, the Washington Declaration, a non-aggression pact with Israel. Other challenges for the country include the rising presence of refugees from neighbour Syria and the regional instability.
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- 10,101,694 (World Bank 2019)
- Governmental Type:
- parliamentary constitutional monarchy
- Ruling Coalition:
- Last Elections:
- 12 November 2020 (parliamentary elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2021 (local elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Jordanian Social Democratic Party (JSDP)
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 him. In his position as Chief of State, Abdullah II has followed a policy of continuing his father's paternalistic style of rule from a moderate, pro-Western 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 the 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. In 2019, after authorities used tear gas to disperse thousands of teachers who had congregated to press for the wage demands near government headquarters, the country's longest public sector strike started. In many of the country’s rural areas and smaller cities, traditional heartlands of support for the monarchy, the strike also became a protest against successive governments’ failure to deliver on promises of economic growth. After one month strike, Jordan's government has reached a pay deal (salary raise of 35-75 per cent depending on the ranks of the teacher) with the teachers union.
Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with a legal system mixed of Islamic law, codes instituted by the Ottoman Empire (which are based on French law) and British common law. 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 the 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 as well as the Senate and to 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 judges and may dismiss them by decree, as well as he may 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 levelled at Abdullah II 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 the King 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 characterised 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 (PM) 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. 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 II reappointed Ensour as Prime Minister on 9 March 2013. He was succeeded by Hani-Al Mulki at the beginning of June 2016. Mulki was also appointed by the King to head the government after the elections of 20 October 2016. Having to manage Israeli-Jordanians relations as one of his biggest challenges. When Mulki introduced a new tax law in May 2018, big protests erupted in the whole country, which in the end forced him to resign. Omar Razzaz held the position as Prime Minister form that point onwards. On the 3rd of October Omar Razzaz was obliged to resign after the King had desolved Parliament several days earlier. The current incumbent prime minister is Bisher Al-Khasawhneh. He was put forward by the King on the 22th of October.
The Upper House or Senate (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 and none of its current members is associated with any party. 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. Membership term in the Senate is four years, renewable by the King. The 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 Jordanian citizens through universal adult suffrage, which is not guaranteed by the constitutions and restricts citizens who are disabled or bankrupt from voting. It is elected for a four years term unless the monarch dissolves it earlier. From a total of 130 seats, 9 for Christians candidates, and 3 for Jordanians of Chechen or Circassian descent, according to the enacted Electoral Law of 2016. Furthermore, 15 seats are set for female representatives. 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 political 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 returned 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. The current speaker of the House of Deputies is independent politician Atef Tarawneh.
After 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 organised along with 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-liberalisation 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 changed the current electoral districts to electoral "zones", each of which is broken down into multiple sub-districts.
On 22 June 2012, after heated debates in Jordan's parliament, 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. 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 from 2,288,043 in the 2013 elections to 4,130,142 in 2016 (policy of active voter registration instead of passive voter registration). 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 quota remained at 15. The 2016 Election Law has been criticized for leaving intact a voting system that favours 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.
On 12 November 2020, parliamentary elections were held in Jordan. The candidates stood mostly as independents, their loyalties rooted not in political parties but tribal and family allegiances. No seats were won by left-wing parties (social democrats, communists, nationalists), and not a single female candidate was able to secure a seat by gaining enough votes (only the requisite 15 women were elected). The parliament will remain in the hands of tribal factions, all loyal to the government.
Across the country, banners of around 1,700 candidates appealed to voters along mostly tribal and family loyalty lines. There were 360 female candidates. 393 candidates were affiliated to political parties. The government maintained the electoral system that under-represents densely-populated cities that are Islamist and Palestinian strongholds.
Results showed the main opposition party, the Islamic Action Front based National Coalition for Reform, gained 10 seats. IAF forged electoral alliances with Christian, ethnic minority or tribal candidates in some areas to maintain two thirds of its 15 seats. A hundred newcomers will join the new parliament, including approximately 20 retired senior military officers.
Officials said turnout among the 4.64 million eligible to vote was 29.88%, the lowest participation rate in many years (in 2016 this was 37%). Even though Jordanians had more options to vote. The number of ballot boxed increased from around 4,800 to 8,061. In some districts of Amman, voter turnout was less than 13%. Outside of the capital turnout was higher, especially in rural and Bedouin areas.
According to Khaled Kaladeh, chief commissioner of the state-run Independent Election Commission (IEC), “fear of coronavirus has impacted the level of participation”. But more importantly, the low turnout is the result of deep public discontent about the ongoing economic crisis, high unemployment and poverty and a lack of political reform. Moreover, it is said that citizens had no faith in the previous parliament and did not feel that this election would bring MPs who can represent them. On the contrary, the feeling was that the people’s participation would only give legitimacy to a parliament that will provide a ‘democratic cover’ for further corruption. It all shows that a growing majority of Jordanians are becoming indifferent to the role of parliament.
Politicians had urged Jordanians to vote amid widespread apathy and calls for a boycott of what many see as an almost toothless assembly packed with government loyalists powerless to make change. “Our society is tribal but we have to encourage people to vote. I appeal to them to head to ballot boxes to make change,” Faisal al Fayez, a prominent politician and former premier and royal court chief.
Most parties had to resort to discussions through online platforms as they were not allowed to hold any in-person activities, due to Covid-19 related measures. Although other types of huge gatherings –such as tribal gatherings in support of tribal parliament candidates- took place under the eyes of law enforcers without being interrupted.
Representation of women and minorities
The number of female lawmakers dropped from 20 to 15. Fifteen seats (out of the 130 seats) are reserved for women under a quota system, and no women were elected in competitive races. Women’s rights activists said that the disappointing results for women candidates in the parliamentary elections was expected due to “male dominance” on the proportional lists. Solidarity Is Global Institute (SIGI) Executive Director Asma Khader said in a statement: “The results are unfortunate but expected because the elections are basically money and tribes. It is not about the youth, women or political parties.” She added: “The road is still long and we need to increase the quota by at least 30 per cent, and this is an international figure that stipulates a change in the system.”
The Christian minority has 9 state-set seats, while there are 3 seats reserved for the Circassian and Chechen communities. It is widely believed that the King only introduced the quotas to show the world its progress.
- BBC Country profile
- CIA World Factbook
- Arab Net
- World Bank
- Carnegie Endowment
- United Nations DP
- Jordan Independent Election Commission
- European Union Official Website
- National Democratic Institute (NDI)
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- Freedom House
- EU External Relations
- King Hussein
- BBC Profile King Adullah
- National Charter 1990
- Dealing with Jihadi Islamism (ICG)
- Jordan Politics
- Website of King Abdullah II
- The National
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- Jordan Senate
- King Abdullah's official site