Sunday, August 20, 2006

Political parties’ law

One of the pieces of legislation to be discussed during the extraordinary session of parliament is the political parties’ law. I haven’t seen the full text of the law, but some of the more interesting components have been disclosed. These include raising the number of establishing members from the current number of 50 up to 250, with stipulations that the establishing members should come from at least five governorates. The proposed law also includes a mechanism for public financing of political party activities.

Despite the fact that there are around 30 licensed political parties in Jordan, only 6% of Jordanians feel that any of them represent their aspirations or interests (see page 10 here). Nahid Hattar has outlined what he sees as the four political trends in the country, which he called the conservatives, (economic) liberals, leftists and Islamists. As I said in the review, I really don’t find myself (and probably most people don’t see themselves) fitting into any of these categories.

Many of the licensed political parties are simple social clubs with no tangible political weight. The notable exception is the IAF. The largest centrist party is the ‘Ahd party built and paid for by Abdelhadi Majjali, the speaker of the house. There is a plethora of small centrist parties, which attempted to merge in the past under the banner of the National Constitutional Party. This merger failed due to personality clashes between the former heads of the individual parties that merged. We also have a couple of Ba’ath parties, a couple of communist parties and other leftist organizations with roots in the various Palestinian movements in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The idea behind the political parties’ law is to encourage the consolidation of the smaller parties and possibly to disband the smaller ones that can’t make the 250 member mark. The funding issue is designed to make larger parties politically and financially viable, and to discourage funding by regional or international forces interested in gaining influence in the country.

The political parties are not happy with the law. The IAF is quite happy with the current situation and is not interested in efforts to encourage other political parties, even if it means not getting public funding. While the coordination committee for opposition parties, dominated by the IAF, is opposed to the law, their only objection is that “the election and public meetings laws should have priority over the political parties’ law”.

Jamil Nimri adds that many parties are worried that they will not be able to meet the requirements of the new law, and that public funding will lead to undue government influence on their agendas and activities. Nimri adds that it would be easy to put safeguards on the way funding is distributed by way of clear mechanisms and formulas which are not subject to government discretion.

I have argued before that much of the weakness of political parties is not organizational or financial as much as ideological. The political parties are more involved in regional political debates than in local problems that touch on the lives of average Jordanians. I don’t think that you can legislate political relevance.



At 8:25 AM, Blogger Habchawi said...

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At 8:37 AM, Blogger Habchawi said...

I think the Election laws should have priority over political parties' law. However, most likely I will not agree with most of their suggestions that have been circulating around like the IAF view of a new election law, whereby “voters are entitled to as many votes as the number of parliamentary seats allocated for their district” (back to 1989).

“much of the weakness of political parties is not organizational or financial as much as ideological. The political parties are more involved in regional debates than in local problems that touch on the lives of average Jordanians”

I think this is due to the fact that most people including political parties feel safer in discussing regional politics than touching sensitive domestic issues. Additionally, for the lack of better terms, tribalism still has its influence on a substantial number of voters. All of this constitutes considerable complications for any political establishment in Jordan. Finally, I would like to note here, that I am not totally against the tribal system. However, I think it should be taken into consideration when drafting such laws.

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Habchawi: If real multiparty elections are to be held the next time, the parties should be given a chance to better crystallize by next summer. Thus, I would disagree that the parties' law should be finished before the election law. But even if you disagree, you can't argue against the parties law simply for this reason.

Politicians who are shy or afraid to discuss sensitive local issues shouldn't be politicians. You can go to any madaleh or 'urs or madafeh or qahweh or office and hear people discuss issues like taxes, services, health care, education, cost of living, wasta, and all sorts of issues that are of interest to people. Are ordinary citizens more curageous than politicains? And when was anybody jailed for talking about these things?

I think that tribalism is an important factor, especially since most candidates say pretty much the same things. The only difference is that a candidate from your own tribe will more likely help you if you need something from the government (notice that this in itself reflects peoples' interest in their own problems). A sucessful party will focus on what people need in Jordan.

At 7:28 PM, Blogger Habchawi said...

“You can't argue against the parties law simply for this reason.”
I am not arguing against the parties’ law but I think it needs to happen in conjunction with reforming our election laws to produce something tangible to the political reforms in this country. Stronger Political parties’ (assuming that the new law can produce those parties) that can’t get elected are insignificant.

“Are ordinary citizens more courageous than politicians?”
Yes, unfortunately ordinary citizens are more courageous than most of our politicians in that respect. I don’t know why but I think it might be because the so-called politicians are more interested in keeping a good tie with the government for future favors (getting a job afterward or securing a job for one of his relatives and so on....) or because they are just unqualified to be politicians? And while average citizens speak more openly about the sensitive domestic issues, they speak less knowledgeably about those issues making their discussions deprived of real value to any body. Furthermore, I think you take too lightly the vast number of ordinary citizens who are in some aspects interested in regional politics more than domestic issues, and thanks to our media that provide gigantic coverage to regional issues and insignificant coverage to domestic issues.

“And when was anybody jailed for talking about these things?”
While I personally don’t think that I would be jailed for talking about these things, it appears to me that most Jordanian does. (According to the "Center for Strategic Studies" in the University of Jordan Report you provided earlier)

“tribalism is an important factor”
You are absolutely right in your point of view. However, we need to remember that tribalism can greatly influence the election process and in general constituents tend to vote based on a loyalty to a group more than the agenda of the candidates or their part for that matter. Nonetheless, tribalism might be a positive influence by providing a safety net for the people and strengthening the politicians who might be scared of retribution from the authorities. We just need to exploit the other side of it as well.

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Habchawi: Before, after or in conjunction, these new laws are in the pipeline. Arguing about their arrangement should not supplant argument about their content.

As I said, politicians who shy away from discussing local issues in a substansive matter in essence have nothing to argue. As for regional politics, I dare say that few MP's are elected based on their stands on these issues.

At 7:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The elections law must be reformed prior to the political party law. The infantile development of Afghanistan's multiparty system reflects the staggering combination of SNTV voting laws combined with a strongly tribal system. Non-transferable votes mean that voters do not vote for the Islamist or centrist or leftist candidate who might otherwise come in preference after the first-best choice of the candidate from one's own tribe or community--no votes, no representation; no representation, no party popularity; no party popularity, no new membership among the increasing number of moderates, especially in the south. Parties are up against a political machine that is precisely tuned to minimizing their influence through electoral manipulations while maximizing the centralized power of the chief executive, and those East Bank tribes that comprise his coalition of societal support.

Why, anyway, should we expect the politicians in the majlis to talk about local political issues that actually matter to the average Ma'ani or Ammani or Irbidi? Any observer who has sat through one of their sessions will understand just how poorly educated and ghastly stereotypical these "national" representatives are about foreign policy, budgetary priorities, labor reforms, sectoral-level performances, interior security matters, etc. They spend their time railing against Israel or Iran, and meantime there are real problems that escape their radar. How many of them understand, truly, the short timeline Jordan faces in its exhaustion of its water table? Or, just how bad the foreign debt service will get if bilateral donors, including the US, stop being so lenient with our external public debt load?

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Anon: You raise important points. However, none of the issues you mention excuses the political parties from their responsibility towards addressing local problems. The system can't (and won't) help them if they don't help themselves.


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