Getting Ready for a New Era of Political Life in Jordan - Foundation Office Jordan
On May 30th and 31st, Al Quds Center for Political Studies and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, in coordination with the Independent Election Commission, organized an experience-exchange workshop titled “Political Parties and Parliamentary Elections: Opportunities and Challenges. As political parties have formalized their situation aligning with the new political parties’ law and others were newly created, Jordan stands on the threshold of a new phase in light of the new laws.
This workshop came to enhance the political parties’ opportunities to win more seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections, which will take place in 2024. The workshop covered four essential topics, including election campaign strategy and the preparation of the election platform, methods for selecting candidates and preparing electoral lists, building political party alliances and coalitions, and fundraising for the electoral campaign. The workshop featured two expert speakers: Dr. Tony Atallah from Lebanon and Dr. Amina Maelainine from Morocco. Dr. Tony Atallah, an elections expert and former dean of the Doctoral School of Law and Political Sciences at the Lebanese University, discussed international best practices and the Lebanese experience. He is a researcher in the "Democracy Monitoring" program, a member of the National Committee for Dialogue between Lebanese Factions, and author of a number of books and publications related to democracy and elections. Dr. Amina Maelainine, a former member of the Moroccan House of Representatives for two successive mandates, former Vice President of the House of Representatives for two years, and former member of the Souss-Massa Regional Council and the Communal Council of Tiznit, presented the Moroccan political experience. She is currently a leading member of the Party of Justice and Development in Morocco.
The Jordanian context was covered by Dr. Hussein Abu Rumman, researcher in political parties and parliamentary affairs who talked about the methods for selecting candidates and preparing electoral lists, Mr. Oraib Al Rantawi, Director-General of Al Quds Center for Political Studies who covered the topic of coalitions and alliances, and Dr. Ali Khawaldeh, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary affairs who presented the legal framework of fundraising for electoral campaigns. The workshop brought together more than 70 participants, including high-ranking leaders and members of the secretariat-general from 20 political parties registered under the new political parties’ law.
The workshop spanned two days and consisted of four sessions, with two sessions held each day. The sessions were chaired successively by H.E. Dr. Samir Habashneh, former Minister of Interior and former Member of Parliament, H.E. Dina Al Bashir member of the Jordanian House of Representatives, H.E. Dr. Sabri Rbihat, former Minister of Political Development and H.E Mayada Shreem, member of the Jordanian House of Representatives. Each session was followed by a discussion during which the participants could ask the speakers questions, and provide remarks or suggestions.
Mr. Oraib Al Rantawi, Director of Al Quds Center for Political Studies, began the workshop by welcoming the participants and providing the context for its organization. With an important election looming one year ahead, he highlighted that, for the first time under the new law, there will be designated seats specifically allocated for political parties. This election is expected to serve as a platform for political, ideological, and intellectual competition. Mr. Al Rantawi also drew a comparison with the recent presidential elections in Turkey, where the participation rate was nearly 90%, contrasting it with the low participation rate in Jordanian elections. He stressed the significance of high participation rates in establishing popular legitimacy, and the necessity to increase the percentages of participation in Jordan. Furthermore, he elaborated on the experience of Jordanian political parties in previous elections, acknowledging their participation despite unfriendly laws. However, he emphasized the need to now shift focus towards strategizing election campaigns and actively engaging in the upcoming electoral battle.
Mrs. Hala Abu Ghazaleh, Project Manager at Konrad Adenauer, introduced the foundation as a politically oriented organization with a specific focus on civic education. She provided an overview of the foundation's work in Jordan, which encompasses capacity building, youth-oriented projects, fostering dialogue, and conducting political analysis.
First Session: Election Campaign Strategy and the Preparation of the Election Platform
The first session concerned the political parties’ election campaign strategy and the preparation of the election platform. H.E. Dr. Samir Habashneh, who chaired the session, commenced by reminding the participants of the prolonged political transition period in Jordan. He emphasized the positive changes brought about by the new laws, which will facilitate the transition of the political landscape in Jordan towards a democratic period. However, he pointed out the concern of Jordanian people and particularly youth that Jordan will effectively walk this positive path.
Dr. Toni Attallah emphasized the significance of developing an effective electoral strategy to increase the party's chances of success. He outlined key elements that contribute to a successful campaignan. Dr. Attallah stressed the importance of direct communication and highlighted the necessity of consulting experts and implementing effective time management strategies in campaign planning. He also emphasized the essential nature of drafting a well-thought-out, tailored, and realistic political platform within a democratic system. He highlighted the significance of having a strong program, especially during debates with other parties, as it serves as a critical element of competition. A well-crafted political platform is instrumental in persuading voters and is an indicator of the democratic development of a party or candidate.
During her presentation, Dr. Amina Maelainine delved into the Moroccan experience, raising the question of whether traditional political parties are still capable of adapting to developments or if their conventional framework has become obsolete. She highlighted the democratic transition of 1998 and discussed the constitutional revisions during the Arab Spring, which now mandate the appointment of the prime minister from the winning party in the election. Dr. Maelainine emphasized the importance of parties developing a strategic approach well in advance of elections, rather than solely focusing on electoral campaigns. She explained that a party's strategy should be shaped by factors such as its political position, popularity, size, and stance towards the government. Dr. Maelainine discouraged parties from relying on foreign centers to prepare their election platforms, and instead follow a methodological approach, engage in in-depth thinking, set realistic goals, and a balanced precision.
Second Session: Methods for Selecting Candidates and Preparing Electoral Lists
The second session of the workshop focused on the proper methods for selecting candidates and preparing electoral lists. H.E MP Dina Al Bashir chaired the session and began by reminding the participants of the new amendments to the election laws.
During her presentation, Dr. Amina Maelainine raised important considerations for political parties. She emphasized the need for parties to define their goals: whether their focus is solely on winning as many seats as possible or if they also aim to establish credibility and nurture a new political elite within the party. Based on the defined goal, the political party can then adopt its strategy to prepare its electoral lists. In the Moroccan experience, some parties clearly prioritize the goal of winning as many seats as possible, regardless of the implications. Consequently, they prepare lists with candidates who are often "dignitaries" or influential people in their society, often with significant financial influence. This approach in preparing electoral lists is risky for two reasons. First of all, the candidate can exert pressure on the party and impose conditions or demand the inclusion of other candidates. Secondly, these kinds of lists do not create real discussions with the government or genuine political competition between parties. Dr. Maelainine warned political parties to pay attention when preparing their lists, ensuring that this list does not turn into a personal list serving personal interests. This can be prevented, for example, by legally addressing the issue of political party hopping
She also addressed the aspect of women and youth participation, explaining that in the Moroccan experience up until 2021, there were local constituencies and one national constituency composed of 60 seats. Half of these seats were allocated to young candidates and the other half to women, based on a quota-based system. This system was valid for one term, with the possibility for youth and women to access the parliament through the local constituency lists.
Dr. Toni Attallah provided a reminder of the different types of electoral lists and how they function, specifically focusing on open and closed lists. He highlighted that in the Arab experience, it is common for the president of the party to impose candidates on the list, explaining that this is a wrong method to build an electoral list. Dr. Attallah emphasized the significance of the candidates' backgrounds and their impact on the list, the electoral campaign and the party.
Dr. Hussein Abu Rumman presented the Jordanian context, focusing on the steps involved in selecting candidates for political parties. Firstly, there should be a discussion about participating in the election and the potential for forming coalitions or alliances. This is followed by the suggestion of candidates for the party's list. Secondly, the parties need to assess the qualifications, capabilities, and social influence of the candidates. Ultimately, the final decision rests with the party's leadership. Dr. Abu Rumman also offered a set of recommendations, including the importance of consistent engagement in elections, the establishment of clear criteria for candidate selection, the implementation of a transparent and equitable candidate selection tool within the party, and the encouragement of youth and women's participation.
Third Session: Building Political Party Alliances or Coalitions
This third session addressed building political alliances and coalitions. H.E Dr. Sabri Rbihat who chaired this session began by addressing the evolving nature of traditional electoral lists for political parties, emphasizing the need for clarity and transparency. He highlighted the importance of political parties asking themselves essential questions, such as their identity and the parties they align with, to form appropriate alliances and coalitions. Additionally, the session emphasized the necessity of identifying the issues that truly matter to the people and gauging the level of interest among party members. He prompted parties to identify the priorities of citizens and act upon them.
Dr. Toni Attallah highlighted the importance of forming coalitions and alliances in an expanding the political scene. He mentioned that this practice is commonly observed in liberal democratic countries, using the example of France where no party can achieve a majority alone without an ally. Dr. Attallah explained that there are different types of coalitions, including binding coalitions where parties join together for an election and must make concessions. There are also more flexible and less binding coalitions where parties simply announce their intention to work together. Temporary coalitions formed solely for the purpose of elections were identified as the least desirable. When explaining coalitions to voters, Dr. Attallah suggested making ideologies more aligned well in advance, prioritizing stability, and focusing on common characteristics between the participating parties.
Dr. Amina Maelainine highlighted the significance of coalitions as a necessity for the survival of political parties, rather than a choice in the current political landscape. She noted that there is an ongoing debate within the Moroccan political scene, specifically addressing the issue of fragmentation “balkanization” and the impact of the electoral threshold. A lower threshold not only makes it increasingly difficult for political parties to gain a majority of seats in parliament but also hinders their ability to wield significant influence, thus impacting decision-making processes. Dr. Maelainine also stressed that pragmatic coalitions in Morocco lack intellectual depth and often function more as coordination rather than genuine collaborations. She further pointed out that coalitions in the Moroccan context tend to form only before elections, indicating a need for greater long-term engagement and strategic alliances. She explained the distinction between a coalition and an alliance, stating that while a coalition is simply the will to work together and has no legal aspect, alliance is more binding and implies for example engaging in elections together with a common list.
Mr. Oraib Al-Rantawi highlighted the distinctive nature of the Jordanian context, which differs from Morocco and Lebanon in terms of laws and constitution. Despite the existence of various types of coalitions and alliances in Jordan, the political environment did not foster such practices, with one of the main obstacles being the one-vote law system, resulting in a fragmented parliament. Mr. Al-Rantawi defined coalitions and alliances as political parties that share common characteristics and have a mutual interest in cooperation. He emphasized the importance of fairness and equality between allied parties, clarifying that forming an alliance with a smaller party does not grant a veto right, although the relative strength of parties does play a role. These alliances serve to organize diverse interests and effectively manage disagreements within a civil and democratic framework. The scarcity of resources, particularly human resources, was identified as a specific necessity for coalitions in Jordan. Mr. Al-Rantawi further explained that coalitions are imperative in the Jordanian context, primarily due to the limited availability of resources, including human resources. He also clarified that it does compromise a party’s independence or uniqueness, but rather imply voluntary compromises.
Fourth Session: Fundraising for the Electoral Campaign
The fourth and last session of this workshop covered the matters of fundraising for the political campaign and was chaired by H.E MP Mayada Shreem.
The Jordanian context was covered by Dr. Ali Khawaldeh who discussed the evolution of political parties in Jordan, noting that initially, there was a quantitative increase in the number of parties without a proportional development in political activism. However, the current law has provided genuine opportunities for political parties. He noted that in the current parliament, only two parties have benefited from funding. However, the current law emphasizes participation rather than the result, providing funding for parties that reach half the percentage of the threshold. Dr. Khawaldeh also pointed out that political coalitions are encouraged and funded, and added that there is a maximum funding limit for governmental support.
Dr. Toni Attallah discussed the funding system in Lebanon, highlighting that it is primarily based on private funding, and even foreign funding rather than governmental support. He pointed out the potential dangers associated with private funding, such as external interference in the internal affairs of the party or the imposition of certain conditions. Dr. Attallah also noted the challenges in supervising the funding process, citing the Lebanese experience as an example. He emphasized that the best supervisor for a candidate is another candidate, suggesting the importance of internal vigilance within the political party to ensure transparency and integrity in campaign financing.
Dr. Amina Maelainine addressed the debate in the Moroccan political scene regarding government responsibility for funding political parties. After thorough discussion, the conclusion was reached that political parties, being constitutional entities working for the people and the state, should receive government funding. However, it was emphasized that such funding must be supervised to ensure transparency and prevent external influence on party independence. Dr. Maelainine emphasized that funding is a right for parties and should not be used as an excuse for the state to interfere in internal party matters. In Morocco, party funding is provided on an annual basis, and parties are required to justify their expenses through proper documentation. Additionally, part of the salaries of the party members who have reached the parliament can be used to fund the parties. Dr. Maelainine explained that insufficient funding should not be an obstacle to the parties’ activities. Even when facing difficult situations, parties should maintain their focus on their ideologies and programs.
The conference concluded with the remarks of the Independent Election Commission reminding its role as an enforcer of the law rather than a legislative body. It also clarified some aspects of the regulations of the funding system by answering some of the participants’ questions.
After each session, participants were given the opportunity to provide feedback, and ask questions and have meaningful discussions. One prominent issue raised by the participants was the financial challenges arising from the funding system in Jordan, which was a recurring theme throughout their interventions. They emphasized the potential dangers of this problem, including the reliance on external funding and the resulting pressure exerted on political parties. Furthermore, participants expressed difficulties in attracting youth and women to actively engage in parties and political activities. In terms of coalitions and alliances, participants highlighted the specific context of Jordan, which historically did not foster such practices. These discussions led to the formulation of some recommendations, among which the most important are:
- Participants suggested providing more opportunities and space for political parties to pursue their objectives, including through legal provisions.
- A number of participants suggested that political parties establish clear criteria for candidate selection within parties, possibly through the creation of a platform.
- Participants pointed out the necessity of adhering to legal frameworks by both political parties and state institutions, thereby fostering trust among citizens and voters.
- Participants recommended creating an environment that supports the development of a genuine political life in the country, following legislative actions.
- Participants recommended improving the funding system for political parties would enable them to enhance the capacities and political culture of their supporters, as well as increase funding.
- A number of participants recommended that the Independent Election Commission organize workshops and meetings with political parties to clarify the aspects and legal criteria of the funding system for political parties.
- Some participants suggested that a follow-up workshop should be conducted, specifically focusing on in-depth topics such as preparing the election platform, selecting candidates, and understanding the requirements of the Jordanian election law for preparing national and local lists.
- Some participants recommended implementing a quota system for youth representation in the parliament, particularly in national constituencies, similar to the approach adopted in Morocco.
- Some participants recommended that 20% of leadership positions within parties be held by youth and women to encourage their involvement in political activities and enable their participation in decision-making processes.