On 15 August, Jordanians for the first time elected mayors, members of municipal councils as well as the governorate councils, under a new Decentralization Law. Elected members of the governorate councils will replace assigned consultative councils with local executive councils, in order to enhance public participation and increase the influence of citizens in decision making processes, such as developmental planning and allocation of funds.
Voting concluded late Tuesday night with a 31.7 per cent voter turnout rate of some 4.1 million eligible voters, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced. The highest voter turnout was registered in Ajloun at 60 per cent, while the lowest was in Zarqa city with only 15 per cent of eligible voters having cast ballots.
The Islamic Action Front (IAF) announced that three out of six of its candidates running for mayorship have won, and that 25 candidates out of 48 have become part of local councils. For the Greater Amman Municipality council, five out of 12 candidates won seats, according to an IAF statement. The Jordanian Democratic Party (JSDP) won 2 seats. More results will follow on 17 August.
Low turnout amongst women
While they make up around 53 per cent of citizens eligible to cast their votes, “only a small percentage of women headed to the polling stations to vote”, said Samar Hajj, commissioner at the Independent Elections Commission (IEC). “The percentages of women’s participation also differ from one governorate to another, with the highest recorded in Mafraq — 16 per cent — and the lowest in Amman – 3.42 per cent,” she noted, citing figures recorded up until 3pm.
Arwa Al Jarhie, the youngest candidate in the Aqaba governorate councils, noted that women and men alike are still “sceptical about the ability of women to have an effective role in the decision-making process, despite the fact that women have always proved to be givers and well-acquainted with the needs of local residents.” “It is still a patriarchal society. When I first announced my willingness to run for the governorate council, I was met with scepticism and dismay. Only those who know me well and know how dedicated I am to improve the situation of youth, especially women, have shown their support,” the female politician told The Jordan Times.
She said that the overall turnover in the elections was “poor”, a trend she attributed to the performance of previous municipal councils. “It is difficult to convince people that this time things will be different; but I keep saying that electing candidates based on tribal affiliations is what caused the poor performance of previous councils. Change comes when candidates are elected based on their programmes and abilities,” Jarhie said.
Election watchdogs were in general satisfied with the way the polls were conducted. The National Centre for Human Rights Commissioner General Mousa Burayzat described the electoral process as mostly smooth and “close to integrity standards,” except for minor disturbances.
Security authorities have detained two suspects for circulating photos of ballot papers taken from the voting booth via social media outlets. It is illegal for voters, accredited journalists and observers, as well as those working on facilitating the electoral process to violate the secrecy of voting, said IEC’s Momani, adding that the commission was investigating the matter.
Leading up to the elections, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) launched a door-to-door campaign in order to raise awareness of at least 85 percent of eligible voters across the country.
However, according to a poll carried out by the International Republican Institute, 74 percent of the respondents were unaware of the fact that the Decentralization Law establishes elected governorate councils. Moreover, 7 in 10 respondents do not understand the purpose behind decentralization. In short, Jordanians were relatively uninformed and ill-prepared for the elections. Authorities have invested in awareness raising, but citizens do not put efforts into learning about the regulations.
Yousef Zreiqat, a candidate for Jerash governorate council, blamed the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs for the voters’ “lack of knowledge” regarding the governorate councils.
Nevertheless, thousands of Jordanians did show involvement as they went on social media to reflect on the municipal elections; either to promote their favoured candidates, to use online platforms to live stream footage from election sights or to voice their opinions. Some social media users spent all day updating their followers on the electoral progress of the candidates and on the number of votes they have calculated, urging people to go out and vote.
Sources: Jordan Times, Reuters