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Jordanian election law changes led to wasted votes, professor says

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

LAWRENCE — In response to the Arab Spring movement, Jordanian leaders in July 2012 announced reforms to the electoral law, which introduced proportional representation for 27 seats to be elected on national lists, increasing the country's assembly by 30 seats and increased the mandatory number of seats for women from 12 to 15.

However, the reforms kept intact what is known as Single Non-Transferable Vote, or SNTV, in which each citizen votes for one representative per district, though most districts elect multiple members to represent them in parliament. A University of Kansas researcher examined the influence of SNTV in Jordan between 1993 and 2013.

"Understanding the consequences of electoral systems in different contexts is important, because electoral systems affect the proportionality of electoral outcomes and the representativeness of parliament," said Gail Buttorff, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science.

Buttorff's analysis, "Coordinator failure and the politics of tribes: Jordanian elections under SNTV," appeared in the December issue of the journal Electoral Studies.

SNTV presents a challenge for elites and citizens because they don't have as many votes as seats available in an election, like they would under a block-vote system.

"The SNTV system makes it difficult to coordinate because of the complexity of the calculations involved to decide how many candidates to run and how to signal to voters if a party is running more than one candidates so that not all voters pool on a single candidate," Buttorff said. "It would be similar to American Democrats and Republicans each running multiple candidates in a congressional district, likely resulting in splitting the votes between the parties' candidate in a general election."

She argues in the study that the tribal nature of Jordan's electoral politics, as well as the regime's strategic manipulation of the electoral rules, undermined strategic coordination and subverted the expected effects on the number of electoral competitors in parliamentary elections. The result: an overabundance of candidates competing in many districts, which, in turn, has led to a high proportion of wasted votes.  

"As a result, the majority of Jordanian citizens cast votes for candidates who do not win, leaving them without a stake in the current political system," Buttorff said.

Because the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is one of the more stable countries in the Middle East and enjoys an important strategic relationship with the United States, including serving as a key coalition partner in fighting against the Islamic State, it is important to study the domestic challenges faced by the state, she said. Like many countries in the Middle East and North Africa since the Arab Spring, both domestic and regional events have challenged the stability of the Jordanian regime. For Jordan, reform to the electoral system has been a main point of contention since the passage of SNTV in 1993.

"SNTV is widely recognized to have been adopted to limit opposition representation in parliament," she said. "While this was successful — along with under-representation of urban and areas with a large proportion of Palestinians — by the November 2010 elections, and continuing after, there was much wider dissatisfaction among elites, including among East Jordanian tribal elites, and citizens with SNTV, as well as with a number of other issues, like corruption and the state of the economy."

The Jordanian government actually proposed a new electoral law last year, which will return to the block-vote system used in the 1989 legislative elections while retaining the reserved seats for women and minorities.

"It is expected that parliament will pass this law in February or March," Buttorff said.

Photo: King Abdullah II of Jordan shows his son, Crown Prince Hussein, a photo given to them by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. A University of Kansas political science professor in a recent study examined how recent changes to Jordanian election law have led to wasted votes in Jordan’s district-level elections. Photo courtesty U.S. Department of State via WikiCommons

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