Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jordan new electoral law scraps contested system

Jordanian PM Awn Khasawneh said the reforms would help parties "place themselves on the political map"

Jordan said on Monday it has approved a long-awaited electoral law that scraps a contested one-person-one-vote system and increases a quota for women MPs.

But the powerful Islamist opposition slammed the government saying the draft law was a "failure" namely because it limits the number of seats allocated to political parties.

"The new system offers a middle ground solution for those who are against the one-person-one-vote and those who support it," Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh told a news conference.

"The goal is to help political parties and coalitions place themselves on the country's political map," he said.

Under the proposed law, voters can cast three ballots: two for individual candidates in their governorates and one for a party or coalition nationwide, in line with a proportional representation system.

Khasawneh said the newly drafted law increased the number of seats in parliament to 138 from 120 and expanded a quota system for women.

"One of the law's main changes is that a quota for women seats in the lower house of parliament has become 15 instead of 12," he said.

"This would do more justice to women."

The quota system was first imposed by King Abdullah II in 2003 as part of his drive to empower women in the conservative desert monarchy.

But according to the proposed law, each of the country's 23 political parties can only field five candidates to compete for the 15 seats allocated for the proportional list, said Khasawneh.

This has triggered harsh criticism from the opposition Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, and analysts alike.

"The proposed law is a big government failure and shows that there is no will to introduce genuine reforms or democratic transformation," Zaki Bani Rsheid, head of the IAF's political bureau, told AFP.

"A law that limits the number of seats for political parties regardless of how powerful they are, cannot establish political life in Jordan. It will execute political life and the future of political parties," he said.

Bani Rsheid said the new law "will reproduce a lower house that does not represent people."

"This law will strengthen the idea of boycotting elections. Any upcoming polls will not be legitimate," he added.

The Islamists, trade unions and media have repeatedly attacked the one-person-one-vote system first adopted in 1993, which they say produces loyalist MPs who do not represent the people.

Before 1993, voters were able to vote for all seats in their constituency.

The Islamists boycotted the elections two years ago, saying the electoral system over-represented rural areas regarded as government loyalist, who are dominating parliament now.

"The government has no fears that the Islamists, or other parties, could hold majority representation in parliament," Khasawneh, who formed his government in October, told reporters.

"The new law does not target the Islamists."

Mohammad Masri, political researcher at the University of Jordan's Centre of Strategic Studies, also said the draft law had shortcomings.

"The law has failed to meet people's expectation, particularly in the time of Arab Spring," which so far has had a limited impact on Jordan, he said.

"We thought the new law would reform political life in Jordan and empower political parties to represent people in line with clear plans," he told AFP.

"Allocating 15 seats for parties is not logical or acceptable. The new law is not likely to change the political map."

The Islamists and other groups have been protesting since last year, calling for sweeping reforms, including a new electoral law to ensure fair representation.

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