Developing Jordan's Political Parties

الإثنين 29 تشرين الأول 2007

Written By: Marwan Asmar

Its election time! As a good non-totalitarian democrat I love the elections, when they happen that is. What I really love about the elections is the time leading up to their finale when voters go up to the polling stations and vote. Although I’ve never voted in my life, I’ve always carefully watched election campaigns, right from start to finish. They are exciting days, of banners hoisted, constituency meets, mini-rallies and all the rest of it.

Prospective candidates, some running for the very first time and of which we are expected to know and vote for, hoist their banners across streets and roundabouts, screaming at the electorate to vote for them because they are the best candidates.

This is the 15th elections for the 15th Lower House, and parliament in Jordan has consistently been in session since 1989, after a long absence of parliamentary life in the country. I am proud to say I covered the 1993 elections, the 1997 ones, and just about missed the 2003 elections because of being away from Jordan.

In all these years, the excitement never faded. Islamic Action Front candidates continuously stood under the IAF banner, but this was never the case with the other political parties, such as the nationalists, the leftists, the middle-of-the-roaders and the tribalists. Although a lot of parties came on the scene after 1993, like Al Ahad, Al Yaqatha and Al Risala and still many others, for some reason or another, many of their candidates preferred to stand as independents arguing they are known for their own independent political personalities rather than as representatives of their parties.

Is this a wrong attitude? Well, maybe. However, once some of them were elected to the Lower House of Parliament, they revealed their true political colors and supposedly argued on party-political lines. Ironically, most of the electorate never knew what those lines were when the MP was just a candidate running for a seat. Many of these parliamentarians argued that they stood a better chance of getting into parliament as individuals rather than under the banner of their political parties. This is due to the belief that such organizations were still seen as relatively new and unknown, despite the fact that many, including leftists, Arab nationalists and Baathists parties, had existed in the 1960s and 1970s, but many of which were effectively banned.

They may of course have been right in their assumptions as political parties were just made legal in the early 1990s, and have thus needed time to be nurtured. As independents, the negative connotations of belonging to political parties would wither away among the electorates who needed to get used to voting for candidates on party political platforms. But the problem with running on independent tickets is that it actually perpetuated individualism, parochialism and depended on the appeal to family, kinship and tribal relations. In past Jordanian parliamentary elections, and even today, the tribal bloc vote has been very important in deciding who wins and who loses.

The effect of this frustrates the process of developing political parties, which, except for the Islamic Action Front, remains weak, ineffective and are no more than talking shop. They have even been used by established politicians to further their own individual political ends and causes. This stands contrary to the need for building modern, strong political parties designed to make democracy and the democratic experiment effective.

Realizing that there is a lot to say about the tribal vote, sometimes political candidates, even Islamists, have been known to appeal to kinship and family relationships as a means of getting into parliament. Once they do, they start the usual game of political party meandering under the parliamentary dome.

That may also be why election banners and slogans on roads are no more than hackneyed, clichéd phrases emptied from their political content. They are read for what they are: brief formulaic statements, lacking the resonance of strong, vibrant agendas and political manifestos that promise change and development, as is the case with elections in more mature democracies around the world.

Political parties in Europe, for instance, are big machines with national and local clout. Everyone, especially the main personalities, know who they are, what they stand for, and what they hope to do once they form the government, or become the party in the majority. In this part of the world, the political culture, machinations and value systems are different and have to be treated differently.

However, in the final analysis, a political party is a political party in which ever part of the world it belongs to; sharing little differences with its counterparts. That’s why such parties have to be strong, come out of their closed shops and enclosures, and appeal to the masses; become broad-based with clout in order to be listened to by decision-makers.

In all fairness however, we have to be gentle with our political parties by understanding the history and the context of where they came from. It took political parties in the western world, centuries to develop and become the national institutions they are today.
They emerged through political struggles and a great deal of pushing and shoving.

But does that mean we have to take that long? Not necessarily, the element of transition from one era to another can take place quickly, but it has to be supported by the state and government. There has to be a political will for democracy, where parties are nurtured rather than left alone.

Jordan is doing well despite different hiccups, but the Arab world in general has to pull itself by the bootstraps if it is to enter into a meaningful political era where representation, democracy and political pluralism is seen as healthy for a society. Our problem now is to move faster in order to catch up with the rest of the world, and develop politically.

In the meantime, let’s for a minute stop and enjoy the political actions of the electoral campaign.