It’s Election Day in Jordan and a desire for change is in the air.
Today’s a national holiday, giving everyone the chance to vote in this historic election.
Here’s a little background on how Jordan ended up with an election, again.
King Abdullah II dissolved Jordan’s Parliament at the end of May, requiring an election soon after, and this is where we are now.
So how does the system work?
The Parliament itself consists of two chambers. The first is the upper Senate, which is appointed by the King, and the second is the lower Chamber of Deputies, with its members being elected through votes.
In total, there are 130 seats – 15 reserved for women, and 9 are reserved for Christians – and there are 23 electoral districts.
Adults 18 and older hold the right to vote, but there are many caveats to this. For example, people who are bankrupt, mentally disabled and some convicts cannot vote. If you’re a member of the armed forces, state security services etc., you also can’t vote while you’re employed by any of these official bodies.
Elections in Jordan are often based on patronage, with people voting for who they know – strong family ties play a vital role.
But this year is supposed to be different, with recent changes being made to the electoral law.
Gone is the controversial one-person-one-vote system. Now, there is a list-based system in place, which is designed to encourage the creation of strong political parties.
Voters can now choose candidates from a pre-set list (there are 226 in total), or they can choose the list in its entirety. This is supposed to foster organization and cohesion between candidates, and therefore creating stronger ideological platforms and parties in Parliament.
It’s a new system, and whether or not it will work remains to be seen.
Getting out there and observing Election Day was exactly what JHR trainer, Mohammed, and I did today.
We set out to see a couple of polling centres and talk to volunteers and voters about the election.
Voting takes place at public schools, similar to at home, and polls are open until 7 p.m. local time.
Though people have all day to vote, the results aren’t expected until tomorrow at the earliest.
We stopped at a centre in downtown Amman, and volunteers in bright vests and all kinds of colours flooded the streets. They stood outside of the main entrances, passing out flyers as people entered to vote.
They took turns standing in the street to stop cars, trying to influence the occupants to vote for whatever party they support. Even kids as young as 8-years-old are out volunteering, stacks of flyers in hand.
I spoke to a young volunteer who’s supporting an independent candidate. I asked him what matters most during this election, and like many people have said, access to work and job creation are top of mind.
He’s studying to be a doctor, but wants to ensure he’s able to get a job when he’s finished with his studies.
Many of his friends feel the same way, as Jordan’s youth unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world.
We crossed the street to speak with another group of volunteers, working for a completely different “party.”
The four men hurriedly looked through a long list of names and phone numbers – family and community members who’d promised a vote for their candidate. Each group seems to have a checklist to go through, making sure promised votes are actually secured.
As mentioned, it’s all about patronage.
At another voting centre on the other side of town, two men were yelling in the streets just beyond the voting gate.
I asked Mohammed what it was about.
One man had promised another that five of his family members would show up to vote. Apparently they hadn’t. He kept shouting “you promised they’d come and vote, where are they? We need them here now.”
It was an interesting up close and personal look into how these elections really take place.
Next up was a look at how local media cover an election. We stopped by Ballad Radio, a community-based station live-streaming the election.
They have several journalists set up in Amman as correspondents, calling in with up-to-the-minute information, news, and updates. They found that there haven’t been as many people out voting as they thought there would be, but official numbers will likely be released tomorrow.
The last stop of the day was a press conference held by the Integrity Coalition for Election Observation.
Integrity Coalition for Election Observation photo to go here
They hold several pressers a day about election violations taking place, with observers at every polling centre across the country.
It was interesting to learn that all kinds of violations were taking place as the presser went on.
For example, one observer was kicked out of the polling station without reason.
At another, people loudly declared who they were voting for, as they stamped their thumbs in ink to vote – an election violation.
There were also a few chaotic scenes with people shooting guns into the air, causing trouble and demonstrating in the way they felt necessary.
Finally, some centres were poorly set up for people with disabilities, and one man in a wheelchair had to be carried up the stairs in order to cast his vote.
It sounds cliché to say, but only time will tell what comes of these new election rules and this vote in general.
We’ll see what happens with the results in the coming days!