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The Carter Center Releases Study Mission Report on Jordan's 2013 Parliamentary Elections

CONTACTS: In Atlanta, Deborah Hakes +1 404-420-5124

Read the Full Report:

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In English (PDF) > 

While Jordan's 2013 parliamentary elections yielded important technical advances, the elections were marred by a system that limits equality of suffrage and by persistent concerns about vote buying, proxy registration, and other problems, according to a report issued today by The Carter Center, which sent a study mission to assess the elections held on Jan. 23, 2013.

The report also concluded that the  ultimate success of the elections will depend on whether King Abdullah II and the major political forces can work together to promote meaningful reform. This includes passage of a new consensus based election law to create a more representative electoral system that can serve as a genuine mechanism of democratic accountability.

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Jordan has witnessed increasingly strident demands for political and economic reforms from a widening set of opposition. The king has argued that the parliamentary elections would restore credibility to the parliament and enable it to serve as an effective mechanism of democratic accountability, and a venue for further reform.  However, opposition forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamic Action Front (IAF), deemed the reforms enacted for the 2013 election insufficient and decided to boycott the process.

Carter Center Study Mission
The Carter Center study mission was composed of a small team of analysts who assessed a number of key issues, including the electoral system, election administration, and dispute resolution process. The mission was limited in scope, as the Center did not deploy observer teams and did not provide a comprehensive assessment of the electoral process as a whole.[1]

The Center found that the new Independent Election Commission is to be commended for its efforts, despite a limited timeframe to prepare for the elections. The commission introduced several important procedural steps to safeguard ballot secrecy, improve electoral administration, and to promote transparency by ensuring broad access for political stakeholders, domestic citizen observer groups, and international observers.  The efforts of the election commission in 2013 provide a strong foundation upon which to build. It will be critical that these gains are consolidated and sustained in future elections. Key steps that should be taken include further efforts to institutionalize the commission's independence, including budgetary autonomy and expanded staff capacity. In addition, stronger safeguards should be put in place to address persistent problems of vote buying and tribal/family politics in the Jordanian political system.

More broadly, in order to ensure a successful democratic transition, consistent with goals outlined by King Abdullah II , it is critical that the major political forces, including the new parliament, the king, political parties and other actors, work together to accelerate the pace of political reforms. In particular, reforms are needed to create an electoral system that provides for greater equality of suffrage across districts and promotes stronger political parties. The current electoral system suffers from significant malapportionment of the electoral districts and favors rural areas dominated by East Bank origin citizens supportive of the monarchy over more oppositional, urban areas inhabited largely by Palestinian origin citizens. The problem is compounded by the use of the single non-transferable vote system in the multi-member districts, which exacerbates the inequality of suffrage. Political reforms for the 2013 elections, including the introduction of seats elected via proportional representation (about 18 percent of the total seats), has done little to address this problem.

For the democratic reform process to gain the trust of all political stakeholders, a definitive road map is needed, including implementation mechanisms, clear benchmarks, and timeframes. In addition, it will be important to ensure that future parliaments have meaningful and effective power, including checks on the executive, more meaningful legislative power, and budgetary and procedural autonomy.

The Carter Center's full report offers several recommendations for improving future elections and strengthening Jordan's ongoing reform process. These include the following:

  • Establish constitutional changes to reinforce parliamentary powers.  In order to ensure genuine democratic accountability, elected parliaments should have the right to supervise the executive and to legislate without external interference. Jordan's constitution prescribes that legislative power is vested in the National Assembly, but also with the king.[2]  Constitutional changes are required to clearly establish the legislative power of parliament.
  • Create an equitable electoral system.  In order to improve the equality of suffrage, discussions should continue between a broad base of political stakeholders, both in parliament and outside, to jointly define an electoral system that is more representative of the Jordanian population, while also suited for the political realities of the country. Various models have been proposed in the past, including by the National Dialogue Committee, and could be used as a starting point for future discussions.
  • Increase women's participation in parliament and the cabinet. The new parliament should consider more effective ways to increase women's representation in parliament, with the goal of eliminating gender disparity. Although the number of seats for the women's quota increased from 12 to 15 from the 2010 elections, the percentage of seats reserved for women remained at only 10 percent, far short of the Millennium Development Goal. The new parliament also should take steps to ensure greater representation of women in its leadership positions (i.e., the spokesperson, the secretary general, the chairpersons of different commissions). In addition, the new cabinet should include a significant proportion of women.
  • Strengthen political parties.  Jordan should continue its efforts to strengthen political parties. Jordan should also consider expanding the percentage of seats on national proportional lists.
  • Ensure the independence of the Independent Election Commission. The commission should be strengthened by ensuring its institutional independence and by providing budgetary autonomy and permanent staff. Members of the election commission's board of commissioners should be nominated by a transparent procedure and with clear and consistent criteria for selection to guarantee its independence. The commission should retain full control over its budget, and its internal financial and staffing procedures while under the control of state auditing authorities.
  • Strengthen campaign finance laws.  Campaign finance laws should be strengthened and enforcement assured to reduce the adverse influence of money in campaigns.
  • Ensure effective enforcement of campaign violations.  Strong measures should be taken to enforce campaign violations, particularly to reduce vote-buying, the use of state symbols in campaigns, and campaigning on election day.
  • Improve Election Administration and Safeguards:
    • Eliminate family registration. The practice of family registration, which was supposed to allow a voter to designate someone of his choice to pick up his voter card, appears to have opened the door to large-scale abuse. To avoid this in the future, it should be eliminated so that voters cannot be registered unless they clearly consent.
    • Continue assigning voters to a specific polling station.  Voters should continue to be assigned to a specific polling station, keeping an important safeguard in place against multiple voting.
    • Enshrine in the electoral law the use of pre-printed ballots. Pre-printed ballots provided an important safeguard to ensure the secrecy of the vote. This should be included in the electoral law to guarantee that this provision for future elections.
    • Clearly define procedures for announcement of results. Results announcement procedures and deadlines and the seat allocation system should be clearly defined in the law. Invalid ballots should be determined according to consistent standards.

Read the full report (PDF) >


"Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope."
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers in developing nations to increase crop production. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.

  [1] The Center's mission was conducted in accordance with the applicable laws, regulations, and international commitments of Jordan as well as with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and Code of Conduct for International Observers that were adopted at the United Nations in 2005 and have been endorsed by more than 40 intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations.

[2] The Constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, art. 25.

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