Jordan: A Democratic Audit
Representative & Accountable Government
Dr. Adli Hawwari
This part of the long questionnaire consists of six subcategories: free and fair elections (2.1); the democratic role of political parties (2.2); effective and responsive government (2.3); the democratic effectiveness of parliament (2.4); civilian control of the military and police (2.5); and integrity in public life (2.6).
2.1: Free and Fair Elections
This subcategory has six questions. The highest mean, 4.8, belongs to question 2.1.3: ‘How fair are the procedures for the registration of candidates and parties, and how far is there fair access for them to the media and other means of communication with the voters?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 2, 4, 4, 5, 7, and 7.
The registration of candidates does not seem to raise concerns. The cases of rejecting applications to run in elections are few. The procedure for registering parties is heavily regulated. A party must have a minimum number of members in several governorates. Access to official broadcast media, particularly TV, is limited. There was some improvement in discussion programmes, which started to invite figures from the opposition, such as Rohile Gharaybeh. In January 2011, Jordanian TV organized an unprecedented debate between Deputy PM, Ayman al-Safadi, and IAF Secretary General, Hamza Mansūr. Organizing the debate deserved credit, but the debate itself was badly managed. Al-Safadi tended to dominate the discussion.
Parties communicate with people through rallies organized on various occasions. During elections times, parties set up tents, distribute leaflets, and hang banners. They also hold press conferences which are usually covered by the daily newspapers. They also use the Internet to disseminate information. A daily newspaper, Assabeel, reflects the views of the MB/IAF. Overall, however, the media, primarily radio and TV, do not allocate parties airtime to broadcast a message, as is the case in the UK.
The lowest mean, 2.8, in this subcategory belongs to question 2.1.1: ‘How far is appointment to governmental and legislative office determined by popular competitive election, and how frequently do elections lead to change in the governing parties or personnel?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, and 4.
There is no room for better marks in this subcategory. The governmental positions are filled by appointment, not elections. Membership of the upper house of parliament is also by appointment. As of 1989, elections started to be held to elect members of the HoD. There should have been elections every four years, but the round scheduled for 2001 was postponed until 2003. The HoD can be dissolved by the king anytime, without giving reasons, as happened in November 2009. None of the rounds of elections enabled a party to form a government.
2.2: Democratic Role of Political Parties
This subcategory has six questions. The highest mean, 5, belongs to question 2.2.1: ‘How freely are parties able to form and recruit members, engage with the public and campaign for office?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 3, 5, 5, 5, 5, and 7.
Although parties are legal, membership is weak. This can be attributed to their ineffectiveness, but in the current climate, it is hard to envisage how they can be more effective. I suggest that weak membership is not only the result of ineffectiveness. There is an element of distrust in the government. Older citizens still remember when parties were banned in the fifties. Members of parties used to be persecuted. They were encouraged, if not forced, to publish statements in newspapers to renounce their party membership and denounce the party they belonged to as destructive (haddam). It is conceivable that should the government decide at one stage that parties are to be banned, old ways will be reintroduced.
The lowest mean, 0.3 (less than 1), in subcategory 2.2 belongs to question 2.2.2: ‘How effective is the party system in forming and sustaining governments in office?’ Five of the six assessors gave zero, and one gave 2, which is very low.
This is a damning assessment. Parties do not change governments, or sustain them in office. The king appoints them and keeps them in office. He also dismisses them whenever he wishes. Governments with short lives are common in Jordan. For example, the governments of Adnan Badran, Samir al-Refai, and Maruf al-Bakhit did not survive for long. The last government formed before the submission of my PhD thesis (2012) was that of Awn al-Khasawneh, who was a judge in the International Criminal Court (ICC). He engaged in some political consultations before forming his government, but there was little to distinguish it from the previous ones.
2.3: Effective and Responsive Government
This subcategory has seven questions. The highest mean, 3.8, belongs to question 2.3.4: ‘How accessible and reliable are public services for those who need them, and how systematic is consultation with users over service delivery?’ Five assessors answered the question. The marks given are 2, 3, 3, 5, and 6.
Jordan always had a mix of private and public sectors. However, a programme of privatization implemented in 1996 meant that the government was no longer in control of water supplies, electricity, and telecommunications, inter alia. The government also managed transport, which relied on fleets of buses. The private sector is now a major player in this arena.
Public and private sectors provide health services. Private hospitals are now thriving. The government offers its employees health cover schemes which provide services at reduced rates. Free health services are provided for the poor who receive assistance from the government at some of its clinics, such as al-Bashir Hospital in Amman.
Consultations with users are rare. For example, Jordanians rely on shared transport, such as buses or multi-passenger taxis (known in Jordan as sarvīs). These vehicles had for years known terminals: one is the Raghadan complex and the other al-Abdali. However, in the name of developing them, the government moved the parking lots to less convenient locations. One impact of the change was weakening the business activities in the old areas. Also, the trip to downtown Amman has to be done in two stages.
The lowest mean, 1.8, in this subcategory belongs to question 2.3.5: ‘How comprehensive and effective is the right of access for citizens to government information under the constitution or other laws?’ The marks given by five of the six assessors are 0, 1, 2, 2, and 4.
The constitution does not stipulate that citizens have a right of access to government information. However, in 2007 Jordan enacted a freedom of information law. In November 2010, Majdulin Allan, published a report on the law, coinciding with its third anniversary. She outlined the difficulties faced by those who seek to use the law. The reporter herself asked the office of the prime minister to see the minutes of the cabinet meetings in relation to a plan adopted in 2007 to build a casino in Jordan. This was a controversial plan which was abandoned at a cost to Jordan for cancelling the contract. The answer she received stated that there were no minutes.
Allan also resorted to courts to order the Department of Land Registry to release information about the transfer of ownership of state land. She sought to know to whom the land was transferred and at what price. The court, however, said the reporter was not eligible to receive the requested information for she was not recognized as a journalist because she was not a member of the Jordanian Press Association (JPA). The reporter then re-applied for a court order as a citizen.
Moreover, Allan’s report indicated that the second application to the court was still being considered. However, this issue proved controversial and subsequently snowballed. The royal court could not ignore it anymore. Officials from the palace met journalists in 2011 and revealed the facts in relation to the transfer and how the pieces of land were used.
2.4: Democratic Effectiveness of Parliament
This subcategory has nine questions. The highest mean, 5.5, belongs to question 2.4.7: ‘How accessible are elected representatives to their constituents?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 2, 3, 6, 7, 7, and 8.
The access itself is not a big problem because the social relationships prevailing in Jordan provide the means for personal contact. This would explain why some assessors gave relatively high marks. However, MPs do not have surgeries in their constituencies, such as the case in the UK. Therefore, the contact between MPs and members of their constituencies is not systemic. This would probably explain why some assessors gave low marks.
The lowest mean, 2.3, in this subcategory belongs to two questions. The first is 2.4.3: ‘How extensive and effective are the powers of the parliament or legislature to oversee the executive and hold it to account?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 0, 0, 3, 3, 3, and 5.
The powers of the parliament are limited. It has no control over its own fate. It can be dissolved by the king without giving a reason. Therefore, its powers are neither extensive nor effective. In the first parliament after the elections of 1989, there was a promising start. The HoD had its way when its views differed with King Hussein’s on the issue of right of appeal from the decisions of the state security court. Subsequent parliaments were tame.
The government of Samir al-Refai sought the confidence of the HoD in 2011. It received 111 votes out of 120 (almost 93%), which turned the HoD into a subject for ridicule. Al-Refai formed a government twice; the first lasted less than a year, whilst the second lasted less than six months. His successor Maruf al-Bakhit formed a new government in February 2011; however, it was gone in October the same year.
The lowest mean of 2.3 is also shared by question 2.4.6: ‘How extensive are the procedures of the parliament or legislature for consulting the public and relevant interests across the range of its work?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, and 5.
As already indicated, parliament has limited power. The king can dissolve it without giving reasons. The government drafts laws, and the most parliament can do is to scrutinize such laws. When parliament is not in session, the government takes advantage of the opportunity to enact provisional laws. When parliament reconvenes, the government asks it to approve them to become permanent laws. Neither parliament nor government consults the public on relevant interests. Views on proposed laws are expressed in newspapers. However, this does not qualify as consultation.
2.5: Civilian Control of the Military
This subcategory has four questions. The highest mean, 8.7, belongs to question 2.5.4: ‘How free is the country from the operation of paramilitary units, private armies, warlords and criminal mafias?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 8, 8, 8, 9, 9, and 10.
This is highest mean in the entire questionnaire. It was only between 1967 and 1971 that Jordan experienced the presence of organizations which challenged the authority of the regime, when Palestinian factions chose Jordan as a base to resist the Israeli occupation. This situation led to frequent clashes which culminated in those of September 1970.3
Moreover, in 1971, there was further fighting which resulted in the expulsion of all armed Palestinian forces from Jordan. Since then, Jordan has kept a tight control over the domestic situation. Jordan does not have any of the phenomena referred to in this question, which apply more to other countries such as Lebanon and Somalia (paramilitary units); Iraq (American private army); Afghanistan (warlords); and Columbia (criminal mafias).
The lowest mean, 3, in this subcategory belongs to question 2.5.1: ‘How effective is civilian control over the armed forces, and how free is political life from military involvement?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 0, 0, 2, 3, 5, and 8.
The supreme commander of the military is the king. A civilian defence minister is also in charge, but the real power is in the hands of the king, not the civilian minister. Control over the army is effective in the sense that it is a professional army which acts when given orders. The concern about the interference of the military in political life stems from using members of the military to vote in certain constituencies to influence the results of elections. The government says in this regard that members of the military exercise their right to vote; the opposition says that members of the military are used en masse and provided with means of transport.
The other form of interference in the political life comes from the GID. Although strictly speaking it is not ‘the military’ as envisaged in the question, it is a military-like department and is run as such. The interference of the GID is pervasive. Reducing its role in political life was sought by Awn al-Khasawneh, who made it known that it was his aim to restore the government’s powers that were appropriated over the years by the GID and royal court.
2.6: Integrity in Public Life
This subcategory has six questions. The highest mean, 3.3, belongs to question 2.6.1: ‘How effective is the separation of public office from the personal business and family interests of office holders?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8.
In theory, rules of separation exist, but their enforcement is another matter. In July 2011, the Jordanian daily, al-Ghad, detailed a case of conflict of interest in relation to a housing project which was given the name ‘decent living’ (aysh karīm). The Ministry of Public Works was put in charge of implementing the project in 2008. The minister at the time was Sahl al-Majali.
When bids for building apartments were invited, two were received: one from a company owned by the armed forces; the other by a consortium which included a company owned by the minister himself. When the proposals were considered, the Accounting Office noticed the conflict of interest. The matter was raised in a letter. Bureaucratic manoeuvres, however, circumvented the objection, and the consortium won the tender. In February 2011, the government referred the project to the ACC for investigation.
The lowest mean, 2.5, in this subcategory belongs to question 2.6.3: ‘How far do the rules and procedures for financing elections, candidates and elected representatives prevent their subordination to sectional interests?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 0, 2, 2, 3, 3, and 5.
Candidates finance their own campaigns if they are not affiliated with parties. Therefore, the wealthier candidates can spend as much as they can afford. Vote buying has been mentioned a great deal during elections, despite it being illegal. The term ‘political money’ surfaced in Jordan during the elections of 2007. It has been used in Lebanon in relation to Rafiq al-Hariri, who gained leadership through the use of money, by assisting the poor or giving employment in institutions he owns.
The Jordanian columnist, Ahmad Abu Khalil (2010), suggested that the definition of ‘political money’ should be widened to include funds provided by embassies and foreign NGOs to spend on activities they sponsor, such as conferences and training. Money given by charities to the needy during elections with a recommendation to vote for a particular party should count as political money, he suggested.
The subordination to sectional interests can be seen in two ways. First, when a tribe chooses one candidate for the HoD. In this case, the candidate will endeavour to return the favour. The other way is that pro-regime candidates are assisted behind the scenes by the GID. Therefore, when these candidates win, they vote according to the wishes of the GID and government. When 111 MPs out of 120 gave the government of Samir al-Refai their confidence, it was a sign that they did not act spontaneously.
Adli Hawwari (2020). Reluctant Liberalisation: A Democratic Audit of Jordan, 1989-2019. London: Ud Al -Nad Ltd.