On Political Theater
By Mohammed Zakaria
Edited by Ahmad Sahli
Jordan's parliamentary elections take place every four years. It is a special event not only for its celebration of "democracy" but more noticeably in how the cities, towns, and streets become ornamented with the bannered and pasted faces of politicians advertising their candidacy.
To run for parliament, a candidate joins a multi-member party list (typically comprised of allied candidates) which then registers to run for the parliamentary seat(s) of a particular district. On election day, voters are given as many votes as there are seats in their district, with the requirement that voters cast all their votes within only one of their own district's party lists. This means voters are required to weigh their preferences within a party list, making for both an inter- and intra-list contest, dispelling the shortcomings of the previous system which allowed individual registration.
In previous elections, candidates from the country's largest families (tribes) registered in districts comprised of their own tribe members, securing wins by familial relation rather than political agenda. The 2016 elections saw a turnout rate of 37%, with the
majority of votes having been motivated by tribal allegiances. The newly re-implemented proportional vote system is seen as a more democratic approach which lessens the disproportionate influence of the tribal system on the only positions filled by popular election in Jordan's government.
Jordan's geopolitical context today makes these elections that much more relevant: with its shared borders with Syria to the north, Israel to the west, and Iraq in the north-east, it is imperative to many international interests that relative calm and firmness of position on certain international political issues are maintained in the nearly landlocked country.
Despite the profound circumstances, Jordan's political theatre can seem like an act comprised of actors uninvolved in their scene, where intentions and objectives falter in the face of self-aggrandizement. As Jordanians we are now accustomed to the quadrennial face-and-slogan checkering of our cities, and the reality that this hollow visual patterning may well be the only change brought about by the parliamentary elections.