Participation of Islamic Action Front in Jordan’s Parliamentary Elections: Significance and Likely Scenarios

Shereen Mohammed | 30 Sep 2020

 

On 21 September 2020, the Islamic Action Front (IAF, Jabhat al-Amal al-Islami) party in Jordan (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood) announced its participation in the parliamentary elections scheduled to be held on 10 November 2020, according to an IAF statement that was read by the IAF Deputy Secretary-General Wael al-Sakka. This paper analyses the implications of the IAF’s participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections, the challenges it faces, both from within it and in the surrounding environment, and the possible scenarios for the IAF’s tactics during the next phase.

A brief background on the Jordanian election law

The 2020 Jordanian parliamentary elections will be conducted according to a system of "open proportional lists" in electoral districts, whereby the voter would choose an electoral list and then choose whoever he/she wants from among the candidates within that list. In forming the list, the number of candidates should not be less than three. Individual candidacy is not permitted in the elections. Women are entitled to compete for 15 seats, one seat per governorate, according to what is known as the women’s quota, or positive discrimination. Hence, the House of Representatives (HoR) comprises 130 seats (115 for the electoral districts and 15 for the women’s quota) and would serve for a term of four years.[1]

The number of electoral districts in the Jordanian governorates is as follows: the Capital (five districts), Irbid (four districts), Al-Balqa (one district), Al-Karak (one district), Ma’an (one district), Zarqa (two districts), Mafraq (one district), Tafilah (one district), Madaba (one district), Jerash (one district), Ajloun (one district), Aqaba (one district), the North Badiya (one district), the Central Badiya (one district), the South Badiya (one district) ). Each of the three Badia (desert, countryside) districts (North, Central, and South) is treated as a governorate.[2] After the return of democratic life to Jordan in 1989, the bloc system was introduced according to the Law on the Election to the House of Representatives No. 22 of 1986, so that the voter can choose whoever he wants from among the candidates according to the number required for each district. A shift was subsequently introduced into the one-vote system (whereby the voter casts only one vote, regardless of the number of seats allocated to the electoral district in which he/she votes) in accordance with the amended Election Law No. 15 of 1993.[3] The one-vote system continued to be applied until the 2010 elections.[4]

Following the constitutional amendments of 2011, the Law on the Election to the House of Representatives No. 25 of 2012 was enacted, introducing the mixed electoral system (parallel election system), so that the Kingdom would be divided into local and general electoral districts (closed proportional list). The voter would cast two votes: one for the local electoral district, and the other for the general electoral district. In 2016, the Law on the Election to the House of Representatives No. 6 of 2016 and its amendments was enacted, adopting the proportional representation system for the first time in the history of the Jordanian political system.[5]

However, the proportional list system currently in effect has prompted calls for its amendment, as it contributed to weakening political party representation and increasing the chances of the independents and tribesmen, especially in rural areas.[6] Advocates of amending this system demanded that the number of parliamentary seats be increased, a mixed electoral system be adopted that is based on a combination of the proportional representation system and the individual-constituency system, and the electoral districts be divided into large constituencies at the level of the governorates and badia regions and small constituencies at the level of the administrative divisions within the governorates and badia regions. However, the official authorities did not respond to those calls. Therefore, the upcoming parliamentary elections will be held on 10 November 2020, according to a Royal Decree issued on 29 July 2020.[7]

Significance of the participation of the IAF in the parliamentary elections

  • Tipping the balance in favour of the participation wing (doves) at the expense of the boycott trend (the hawks) in light of an argument that lasted for several months, for fear of a decline in the IAF’s political role and the erosion of its community presence, and with a view to overcoming internal division and disintegration.[8] This reflects the awareness by the IAF leaders and staff of the cost of the boycott that had previously been applied in two election rounds in 2010 and 2013, or what was referred to in the IAF statement as “withdrawal from the battle and a derogation of responsibility”.[9]
  • The IAF’s endeavour to de-escalate with the regime after tensions as a result of the licence granted by the government in 2015 to an association called the Muslim Brotherhood Association, which brought together dozens of dismissed people from the parent group, and the ruling made by the Court of Cassation (the highest judicial authority) on 16 July 2020 to dissolve the group because it failed to rectify its legal status.[10] Accordingly, the Brotherhood is considered a dissolved group since 1953, and the Brotherhood Association which was established five years ago is not a successor to that group. The ruling came to repeal the decision by the Court of Appeal issued in November 2019, which ruled that the Brotherhood group was dissolved and that the licensed Association replaced it. The case goes back to 2015 after the dissident association filed a lawsuit against the members of the group’s executive office at the time, considering that they hold under their personal names money and real estate that belong to the licensed association.[11] The Court considered that, according to its decision,  the 2015 association does not constitute a legal successor to the 1946 association. In this context, the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the state exacerbated, and the group accused the Jordanian state of trying to split the group.[12]
  • Providing institutional intermediary channels with the state through the Members of Parliament (MPs) represented in the HoR, based on the IAF’s endeavour to exploit the need by the official authorities to prevent the return of the popular movement. The IAF justified its participation by the need to activate the role of the legislative authority and defend the expansion of public freedoms during the phase ahead.[13]

Challenges of representation in the next parliament

There are a set of challenges that will face the IAF in the course of its participation in the parliamentary elections, including:

1. Funding source flows, or financing requirements, considering that the elections will be held in accordance with the new party financing system for the year 2019 and its executive regulations for the year 2020, both of which have expanded the requirements for obtaining funding and imposed tight control over aspects of spending, in an attempt to institutionalise party representation on the electoral lists and their emergence in clear blocs that bear the names of the respective parties, and subsequently inside Parliament.[14]

2. Continued security pressures to discourage the IAF members from participating in "expanded" electoral alliances so that their representation would remain limited. During the press conference announcing the IAF’s participation in the elections, the IAF’s Secretary-General Murad al-Adaileh warned against “the continued practices of the government and the security grip against the IAF members and its affiliates and allies, and pressure put on them to dissuade them from joining the IAF’s electoral blocs”.[15]

3. The opposition by the civil currents to the ruling trends of the Islamic currents, as reflected in the rejection by a sector of the political parties (nationalist and leftist) of allying themselves with the IAF in the last elections, in addition to the rivalry between the IAF and parties that are characterised by their proximity to the governing establishment that announced their participation in the upcoming elections.[16]

4. Pressing regional contexts. Many countries in the region have suffered from the rise of Islamic currents to power after the 2011 movement in light of the latter’s continuous endeavour to get hold of the state and not just the power structures. This is demonstrated by the cases of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. In addition, "Islamic" regional ties are favoured to "national affiliations".[17] Indeed, the Brotherhood’s safe havens in the region have become under threat. What is more, the past few years have made clear the chasm in the partnership approach between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood group, especially in light of the group’s aspiration to reap the fruits of the Arab revolutionary movement.[18]

Likely scenarios for future IAF tactics

First scenario: individual running or continuation of the previous alliance. In this scenario, the IAF’s members would run individually or the IAF would join the National Alliance for Reform (NAR) coalition, under which it participated in the 2016 elections after boycotting the elections that were held in 2010 and 2013. The Coalition brings together leaders from the Islamic Movement. Accordingly, IAF members are not expected to win more than the seats they won in the 2016 elections, namely 15 out of a total of 130 seats, or 11.5 percent.[19] Supporters of this scenario believe that it is in the interest of the Jordanian state to have an opposition voice to the official policies within the next parliament, to show that there is representation of different political parties and trends.[20]

Second scenario: attempting to expand the coalition circle, especially with tribal and regional actors, so that the IAF would not nominate candidates in its name, but rather seek to join other candidates to increase the number of seats that the IAF gets in the nineteenth HoR on the one hand, and rebuild its political legitimacy by focusing on issues of public freedoms and fighting corruption on the other hand.[21] However, security pressure on some currents may be an obstacle to the IAF’ attempt to join a coalition with other political and community actors.

Third scenario: the status of the IAF remains unchanged temporarily due to the possibility of postponing the parliamentary elections. This was the reason for delaying the announcement of the IAF’s participation in the event of an increase in the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic, according to the worst possible scenario, which strengthens the likelihood that the status of the Jordanian Brotherhood would remain the same.[22] However, the last scenario may be unlikely in light of insistence by the Jordanian authorities on overcoming the Covid-19 crisis and recovering from the depressing economic crises, as well as facing multiple challenges that require strengthening the national partnership.[23]

Conclusion

On balancing the three likely scenarios above, it seems that the first is the most plausible, given the lack of strength of the IAF in the street at the current stage. This is due to various considerations: first, the organisational crisis that the IAF has been experiencing over the past ten years after the splits within its ranks; second, the gap of common interests with the other political actors and the relative lack by the IAF of a community sponsor in a way that would affect its voting power on 10 November 2020; and third, the possibility of a vote fragmentation in favour of parties close to the governing establishment. In this case, the Muslim Brotherhood’s presence in the Jordanian Parliament may turn from an ambition to create an influential bloc that can develop and pass laws and legislation to a mere Brotherhood attempt that seeks to avoid falling into the trap of isolation, both locally and regionally.

References

[1] See: “In detail: electoral districts and the number of representatives for each district”, Jordanian sawaleif, 23 May 2016. Available at: https://bit.ly/3lceyL9

[2] For more details on the Jordanian electoral law and the distribution of electoral districts, see the website of the Jordanian House of Representatives at: http://www.representatives.jo/?q

[3] Naser Shadid, “Jordan maintains the one-vote system in the elections”, BBC Arabic, 20 May 2010. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/arabic/middleeast/2010/05/100519_jordan_elx_tc2

[4] Saleh Abdul Razzak Faleh al-Khawaldeh, “The electoral System in Jordan in 2016: Analytical study”, The Algerian Review of Human Security, Algeria: University of Batna), Issue No. 3, 2017.

[5] Ra’ad Abdel Kareem al-Awamleh, “The Role of Election Laws in Representing Political Parties in Jordanian Parliament Councils Following The Democratic Transformation (1989-2016)”, Dirasat: Human and Social Sciences (University of Jordan), Volume 47, Issue 1, 2020. Available at: https://journals.ju.edu.jo/DirasatHum/article/download/104250/11198

[6] Majid al-Amir, “A new election law for the House of Representatives better than (dissolution or extension)”, al-Rai Newspaper, 15 February 2020. Available at: http://alrai.com/article/10523870

[7] “Jordan: A Royal Decree to hold general elections on 10 November”, france24, 29 July 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2GeYuZX

[8] Tareq al-Naimat, “The Continued Fragmentation of the Jordanian Brotherhood”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 19 October 2018. Available at: https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/77531

[9] “Considerations of gain and loss accounts lead the Jordanian Brotherhood to participate in the elections”, alarab, 22 September 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2ELcU3j

[10] “The Jordanian judiciary decides to dissolve the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ group due to its ‘failure to rectify its legal status”, france24, 16 July 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3mYebFD

[11] “‘Jordan’s Brotherhood’ confirms its initiation of gradual separation between ‘the Group and the Party’ and returns to the elections after the boycott”, Arabic CNN, 15 June 2020. Available at: https://arabic.cnn.com/middleeast/2016/06/15/jordan-muslim-brotherhood-elections

[12] “Dissolution of ‘Jordan’s Brotherhood’: popular decline and political losses extended to the 2020 elections”, al-ain, 25 July 2020. Available at: https://al-ain.com/article/solution-jordan-brotherhood-losses-elections

[13] Nidal Mansour, “The ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ does not burn its bridges with the authority in Jordan”, alhurra, 24 September 2020. Available at: https://arbne.ws/3idZ07G

[14] “’Challenges of the political climate’ and financing requirements face the parties in the upcoming elections”, Jordanian alghad, 12 August 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3cKkQOW

[15] “Secretary of the Jordanian ‘Action Front’: The security grip on political life is behind the decline in party work”, Ikhwan online, 21 July 2020. Available at: https://ikhwanonline.com/article/240555

[16] “What does the Brotherhood’s participation in the Jordanian legislative elections stand for?”, france24, 15 September 2016. Available at: https://bit.ly/3mXpTQG

[17] “Local and regional contexts besiege the brothers of Jordan”, alarab, 17 August 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2SaYpsJ

[18] Nidal Mansour, “Will the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan pay the price for their rush to reap the fruits of the Arab Spring?”, alhurra, 30 July 2020. Available at: https://www.alhurra.com/different-angle/2020/07/30

[19] Kirk H. Sowell, “Takeaways From Jordan’s Elections”, Sada, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 30 September 2016. Available at: https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/64749

[20] “Jordanian Legislative Elections: A New Law and Participation by the Muslim Brotherhood after a Long Boycott”, france24, 19 September 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/33KMCIf

[21] “Jordanian MP: The Brotherhood’s participation in the elections is a legitimate right and the enactment of new laws in accordance with the Constitution”, Arabic Sputnik, 22 September 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/33gcfAA

[22] Rakiz al-Zareer, “Worsening of coronavirus epidemic and postponement of parliamentary elections”, Jordanian Al-Ghad, 22 August 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3kZJazk

[23] Marwan Muasher, “Who are the opponents in Jordan?”, Diwan, Carnegie Middle East Center, 13 July 2020. Available at: https://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/82281

 

Latest Scenarios