Elections in Jordan: Victory for Reform or More of the Same?
By Andrew Spath and Michael Makara
Reviewed by Norvell DeAtkine
The authors quite correctly assess the latest parliamentary elections as changing little in the process of moving Jordan further along on the road to a working democracy. The parliament remains a weak institution and does not provide an outlet for the citizens to express their grievances nor check King Abdullah’s power. It primarily provides, as the authors write, “an adjustment at the edges.”
The king tried very hard to get people interested in the election and the political process but in terms of the eligible voting population, only 35% participated. The authors correctly point out that the king is too pragmatic to dogmatically pursue liberal democratization, particularly viewing the chaos of the “Arab Spring.” Neither do the Jordanians have the economic largess to buy off dissidents as in the Arab Gulf.
The authors of the article make a good case for the importance of Jordan to the U.S., particularly in view of the unsettled environment in Iraq and the continuing civil war in Syria. The importance of Jordan to Israel security is also a vital consideration of the U.S. With over half of the Jordanian population originally Palestinian and most still viewing Palestine as their home rather than Jordan, the king must tread carefully in relations with Israel. Although the authors do not mention it, the scars of the Jordanian-Palestinian civil war of 1970 remain unhealed.
The authors, concentrating on the failure of the election to substantially move Jordan forward toward more liberal governance, do not get into the strengths of the regime. The king, like most Arab leaders, can play the religious, sectarian, and urban-tribal cards. Jordanian east bank fears of a west bank Palestinian takeover and tribal loyalties clashing with an emerging Islamist movement depict another aspect of the environment. An additional ingredient is that both are arrayed against the well-educated secularist elements providing fertile ground for the old, but always effective, divide and rule policies. The king also has a very efficient security apparatus and a loyal army. Although Abdullah lacks the political adroitness and charisma of his father, he has shown he has developed a keen political acumen.