Thursday, October 25, 2007

Duplicate names

One of the (dirty) tricks played in elections here is the running of candidates with similar names. Typically, one of these candidates is paid to run in order to bleed off votes from a legitimate candidate. If you are in Irbid’s second district, voting for Husni Shiyyab will result in disqualifying your vote, because there are two candidates with the same name. Husni Ahmad Shiyyab is a political scientist and was a leftist deputy from 1989 to 1993; while his namesake Husni Fandi Shiyyab is a physician and a political novice.

In Ajloun's first district, you might vote for Mohammad Tu’meh Al Qudah. In this case, you will also waste your vote unless you differentiate between Mohammad Tu’meh Suleiman Al Qudah and Mohammad Tu’meh Oqleh Al Qudah, who are both running. One of them is an IAF candidate, but I won’t tell you which.

Cute, right?


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sari Nasser

One interesting candidate in Amman’s third district is Professor Sari Nasser. Many graduates of the University of Jordan over a number of decades have taken his course, where he encouraged them to do community service as part of the course requirements. It is probably a safe bet to assume that if a significant percentage of his ex-students vote for him, then he would easily win.

Professor Nasser is interesting because he is a capable, urbane and enlightened sociologist.There are a number of professors running for parliament, but most of them are relatively young and have decided that being university lecturers is beneath their ambitions. If my estimates are right, Dr. Sari has reached the age of retirement (70 years) before starting his political career, and thus he is of a more altruistic breed.

I have been trying to figure out some of his views by surfing the web. I found this interview which somewhat troubled me.

Now, I have no problem with his characterization of the issue of so-called honor killings. What concerns me is the lack of any apparent moral indignation. His attitude is somewhat of a shrug of the shoulder and assurances that the problem will go away eventually by itself.

To be sure, the interview is not part of a political campaign. But still, there is no suggestion that laws allowing lenient sentences for murderers should be tightened as a part of the package of societal change. I would like to have heard that from him. The interview was conducted in May 2007, so running for parliament must have been on his mind back then.

Then there is this, where he complains about western influence on the structure of family in the Arab world, assigning many societal ills to this influence. I am not sure what the implications of these views would be for an MP, but is does strike me as being too conservative for my taste. However, I wish I could get a copy of his election manifesto. If anybody can get it for me, I would be grateful.

I hope that people would ask candidates point blank what they think about legislations related to “honor” killing. If anybody can clarify Nasser’s positions for me, I will gladly display them prominently. I would so much like to be wrong about my impressions.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Hattar not running

Nahid Hattar, with support for a group called the “Jordanian Social Left”, has been considering running for the Christian seat in the third district of Amman. He is one of the few candidates who have coherent opposition ideas about issues related to wealth distribution, the role of the state, privatization and other economic and social priorities. I reviewed his book a while back. In it he expounded on his themes.

In an announcement issued by the JSL, it was announced that Hattar would actually not run, and complained that vote buying, transfer of votes for the benefit of specific candidates, political and logistical support for specific candidates as well as manipulation of electoral alliances for the benefit of specific candidates had poisoned his chance to win.

It was always hard to imagine Hattar winning in the third district. His message is not really designed for the compradors and petty bourgeois who dominate the district. And while he may have some tribal base there, he has pointedly rejected using that card as a matter of principle (although he would have been happy to ally himself with the Islamists, had they agreed).

Hattar would have had a better chance in a working-class district. The Christian seat in the first district in Zerqa would have probably been a better bet. Bassam Haddadin won that seat in 2003 with a mere 3065 votes (4.6% of the votes cast). The competition on the seat this year is meager as well.

It is too bad that Hattar will not be in the next parliament. He has refreshing if somewhat controversial ideas.


The pollsters

Two men who made their names conducting opinion polls are running for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Mustafa Hamarneh of the Strategic Studies Center at the University of Jordan is running in the first district of Madaba and Musa Shtaiwi of the Jordan Social Research Center is running in the first district in Balqa (Salt).

Unfortunately, no opinion polls have ever been conducted to attempt to determine winners in parliamentary elections. Hence, most people are usually surprised by the some of the results. However, these candidates should have a better idea about their chances of winning, being pollsters and all.

Or do they?


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The women's quota

In order to ensure participation of women in the parliament, the election law has set aside six seats for the women who, countrywide, receive the highest percentage of votes in their districts. If a woman wins outright, her seat is not considered to be part of the quota. The choice of giving the women with the highest percentage of votes rather than the highest absolute number of votes is to ensure fairness between districts of different numbers of voters. While on paper this looks fine, in the last election it led to the election of women with as few as 365 votes. Worse, most of these ladies have attitudes towards women's rights ranging from ambivalent to hostile, much the same as their male colleagues.

Smaller tribes who have little hope of mustering enough votes for an outright victory have taken to nominating women, in the hope that the lower number of votes needed will give them a better chance. Clearly, as in the last election, their chances will be better in smaller districts where they can get a higher percentage of the vote. In any case, hope springs eternal, and there are a large number of ladies running this year, which in itself is a good development.

It is ironic to remember, however, that the first woman to win a parliament seat in Jordan did so without this quota system. Toujan Faisal won a seat in the third district of Amman in 1993 designated for Circassians and Chechens. She turned out to be too much of a maverick for the government's taste, and in 1997 they mustered enough votes to oust her by heavy support towards a hence after unheard of candidate named Nayef Moola. In 2003, they moved the Circassian/Chechen seat to the sixth district, so that the politicized electorate of the third district couldn't vote for her again. There have been rumors that Toujan might run in the fifth district, but it is not clear if her application for candidacy will be allowed. She was convicted in 2002 of slandering the prime minister, Ali Abu Ragheb, accusing him of using his position to raise insurance premiums for mandatory automobile policies. Abu Ragheb had major stakes in a number of insurance companies. Anyway, she was released by a special pardon by the king, possibly making her ineligible to run again.

So there you are. Popular women with a real base of support are eliminated from running, while conservative women with little to contribute are shoehorned in. It must be nice to be able to make your own rules.


Monday, October 08, 2007

The IAF slate

After weeks of speculation, the IAF yesterday announced it's list of candidates for the upcoming election. It seems that the MB actually had the final word in naming the candidates, choosing 22 to run in 18 districts. The slate is dominated by the moderate wing of the party, including old timers such as Abdullatif Arabiyat (Salt) and Hamzeh Mansour (Amman second). Most analyses see the modest number of contestants and their moderate nature as a message to the state: the moderates are in control and they don't want to be perceived as a threat. A more reasonable analysis by Jamil Nimri is that this number of candidates has a better chance of winning. Some reports have suggested that the prime minister challenged the moderated during a recent meeting by dismissing their clout in the party. This challenge seems to have had an effect.

The head of the IAF, Zaki Bani Irshaid is not happy about this. He is perceived to be a hawk and has been sidelined in the selection processes. He was even hoping to run himself, but was rebuffed. Bani Irshaid was not in attendance when the IAF slate was announced. There are reports that hawks in the party are planning to work towards the failure of some of the more moderate candidates on the slate.

So, while the moderates have won the latest round, there seems to be more of a struggle on the way.

Professional wrestling, anyone?

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Why elections are boring

It has been said that all politics are local. In Jordan, this adage takes on even greater meanings, as most races for parliament are fought for and determined by local politics rather than by any grand political battles.

It starts with the election law.In the current law, the candidates who win the highest number of votes win the seats for that district. In 2003, this meant that candidates with less than 5% of the votes cast could gain a seat in the parliament. For example, Khalil Habarneh won a seat representing the first district by clinching 3419 out of 69324 votes cast (4.9%). Similarly, Marwan Sultan gained a seat in the coveted third district by collecting 3717 out of 66094 total votes cast (5.6%). In most districts, the total votes collected by all the winners did not come near the 50% mark. It is no wonder that almost everybody thinks that they can collect a couple of thousand votes and win a seat. It is true.

Then there are the voters. The electorate has come to view MP’s as their wasta to getting a job, university seat, their road fixed or for asking for the hand of a bride. Thus, from a functional point of view, it makes sense to vote for one of your relatives or friends. Not only do you get a wasta, but you also get bragging rights over your friends from other tribes. More entrepreneurial voters are simply selling their votes (capitalism coming full circle). Tribes are now conducting internal votes (primaries?) to see who will be their candidate. Most have a pretty good idea how many votes they will get because it is the same as the number of their tribe in the district. Governments cynically grant favors to deputies and their favorite constituents so that they can pressure them whenever they want a controversial law passed.

What about political inclinations? Well, these play little into the results. Unless you want to vote for an Islamist, then for the most part you have to choose between centrists who are more interested in the perks of the job than in making any resounding political statement.

And then there are the candidates. Few of them are overly politically interesting. They are either bored self important businessmen, ex-government officials looking for a way back into the limelight or retired ex-officers who have suddenly found lots of extra time on their hands. Political parties run few candidates, and even their candidates play by the rules of tribalism and patronage.

I am hoping something different might happen this time. So far, it looks like the same old same old.