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Jordan’s 2013 Parliamentary Election

JordanIEC

Jordan’s Independent Electoral Commission.

This Wednesday, Jordanians will vote in a parliamentary elections to determine the composition of their 150-member Chamber of Deputies.  A number of significant reforms to the electoral law have taken place since the last election, including changes to the institution managing the election, voting procedures, and the electoral system.

The most high profile debate over the past year has been over reforms to Jordan’s electoral system. Reform advocates have achieved some success, though the system still doesn’t reflect all of their demands. Gone are the Virtual – or “Ghost” – districts from the previous election. The system now more closely resembles what was in place from 1993 to 2007, in that most seats will be elected via Single Non Transferable Vote (SNTV). That means that every voter will cast one vote in a multi-member district with N seats, with the top N vote getters winning the open seats. This implications for SNTV are fairly well established. The system makes it very difficult for political parties to form as parties would essentially have to run their own candidates against each other. It also increases the incentive for corruption, as the marginal value of every vote is very high.  This is because SNTV systems often result in the winning candidates capturing their seats with a very small percent of the vote. In general, SNTV is viewed as favoring Jordan’s tribes while hurting organized political parties. Most changes to Jordan’s election law throughout the years have been viewed as finding ways to help tribal elites as much as possible, while making life more difficult for anybody wanting to form a political party.

The system isn’t quite normal SNTV, however, as there is a very low average district magnitude (seats per district). In fact, 18 out of the 45 districts have only one seat, making them First Past The Post (FPTP) races. The average district magnitude of all the districts is only 2.37.

JordanDistrictsDM

As with previous elections, the electoral law has provisions to ensure a certain level of ethnic minority representation. Nine seats are reserved for Christians across eight districts, while three seats are reserved for Chechens/Circassians across three different districts. For example, Balqaa’s First District has seven seats, five for Muslims and two for Christians. In this district, the top five Muslim candidates will win and the top two Christen candidates will take seats.  Any voter can vote for a Muslim, Christen, or Chechen/Circassian candidate if they are running. So in this sense, a Muslim can vote for  a Christian “seat” and vice versa.  This is similar to the consociational system that Lebanon uses, though in Lebanon, voters get as many votes as their are seats in a district.

In addition to districts based on the 12  governorates, nine seats will be reserved for Bedouins across three districts.  Participation in these districts, whether as a candidate or voter, is reserved for members of certain families who are listed as belonging to the respective locations. A breakdown of all the districts and  governorates is below.

DistrictsJordan

Gender Quota

There is also a gender quota component in the electoral law, which will guarantee at least 15 women are elected to parliament. For each of the 12 governorates, the female candidate who receives the highest percentage of votes in their district will be elected, regardless of their vote total compared to their male counterparts. This also applies to the three Bedouin districts.  This is the same way Afghanistan implements its gender quota, and it’s probably the most intuitive way if you are using an SNTV system.  Afghanistan, however, mandates the top two females from each province are elected, which guarantees that the Wolesi Jirga will be 27% female. Jordan’s minimum, will only be 10%.

Proportional Representation Seats

In addition to the 108 SNTV/SMD seats, 27 seats will be allocated using a closed-list proportional representation system. Opposition members from all political stripes have long advocated for a PR system or tier, which benefits political parties. Although the 27 seats are a small concession, most opposition members still seem to feel that it is inadequate. The PR tier will be comprised of one nationwide district, and seats will be tabulated using the Hare Quota.

Ballots and Other Reforms

Jordan has made several administrative reforms for this election, which will hopefully result in a better run poll. The first is the establishment of an independent Electoral Management Body (EMB), the Independent Election Commission (IEC). The IEC replaces the Ministry of Interior, which previously ran elections. Now, of course, having the word “Independent” in your name isn’t  a sufficient condition to meet the requirements of being independent. The IEC commissioners are still appointed by the Monarch, so there are still some issues of influence here. With that being said, a separate body is probably preferable to the Ministry of Interior in terms of administration and legitimacy.

The other issue is with regards to ballot paper. For the 2013 election, voters will receive two pre-printed ballot sheets, one for the PR tier and one for the SNTV tier. In past elections, voters were given a blank sheet in which they had to write the name of their candidate. Aside from potentially disenfranchising illiterate voters, blank ballots greatly influenced the power of elites as it increased the marginal cost of casting a vote. Seeing a list of candidates in front of you is much easier than needing to memorize one beforehand; especially when there are so many candidates. For this reason, blank ballots benefit candidates with the highest name recognition and result in less informed decision making.

Gender quotas and the status of women in the new Tunisia

The Democratic Modernist Pole. (Pôle Démocratique Moderniste – القطب الديمقراطي الحداثي) The only party in the upcoming election to have women lead half of their lists.

Bloomberg has a good article about some of the difficulties women are facing in Tunisia’s new political climate. I wanted to highlight a point made by one Tunisian candidate:

“We shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water,” said Ahmed Brahim, who runs the PDM or Modernist Democratic Pole, the only party where women head half the lists. Women’s rights in Tunisia “are fragile because they are associated with an authoritarian state.”

I think this is an important point.  We (the development community) often push for gender quotas in less-than-democratic countries.  While I’m for these efforts, I think we need to do a better job of not just acknowledging their limitations, but potential drawbacks as well.  The main goal of more female representation in parliament is to obviously have women included in the decision-making process. This isn’t really relevant in non-democracies, however, as parliament isn’t deciding very much.  One of the justifications used then, is that the presence of female legislatures will provide positive images of women performing competently in important positions.  This should have a positive impact on the populations’ general image of women. I agree with this intention, but what if something else could happen as well?

Parliaments in authoritarian, or semi-authoritarian states aren’t viewed with much confidence. (Really, legislative bodies in democracies often suffer from low approval as well) Could it be possible then, that gender quotas actually decrease the perception of women’s capabilities?  If the average citizens sees parliament as corrupt of just part of the regime, I don’t see how women parliamentarians will bolster their standing in society.

Egypt’s potential district boundaries, Ctd. Workers and farmers

In my last post I went over the basics of Egypt’s new district boundaries.  Now I would like to delve into the some of their potential implications.

The most noticeable aspect of the districts are their size: only four or six seats for each one.  The reason for the only even numbers confused me at first, until I realized this must be to accommodate the constitutional requirement that half of all MPs be workers or farmers.   The nominal tier of seats is already a convoluted mess because of this strange requirement, so I guess it makes sense for the ordinal tier to suffer from it too.   Why is this the case?  Well in order to guarantee that half the representatives are workers and farmers, every district will need to send half of its delegation from that class. This means that every party list will have to employ what is commonly known as a zipper provision.  That is, every other list member must be a worker or farmer.  This also explains why Egypt is proposing a closed-list system.  Open-lists would allow voters to cast preference votes, which could place non workers or farmers at the top of the lists.  Because of this rule, the small size of districts could result in a PR tier where almost only worker or farmers are elected.  In the standard district with four seats, for example, we might expect that one party would capture two seats, and two other parties would split the remaining half.  This would mean that three of the four delegates would be from the reserved class, with only the second list member of the largest party not belonging to that group.  With the fractionalized nature of Egypt’s current party system, few parties getting more than one seat per district is not unlikely.

This requirement will also place party leaders in a bit of a bind.  Normally a party leader would run at the top of their respective list. Most party leaders, I assume, would not like to risk being second place on a list in  a four seat district.  This will probably cause party leaders to 1) run in extremely favorable districts (if they exist), or 2) run in the nominal tier of seats.  The thing is, I’m not sure how many party leaders could win in the nominal tier of seats.

The other major implication I can think of is the impact this will have on women’s representation.   The NDP did institute a gender quota in the previous election, which was a special tier of 64 SMD seats.  It wasn’t too popular, and the current gender quota is for every party to include at least one women on every party list.  Originally, the placement had to be on the top half of the list, but this was changed to the weak requirement that they could be placed anywhere.  The small districts will make list placement even more important for candidates, which means that there is a less likely chance women will get winnable slot.

Egyptian SCAF unveils new electoral system

Egyptian Army council General Mamdouh Shahin announced on Wednesday final amendments to the country’s electoral law. The new system has a lot in common with what I previously wrote about, with some key changes. Under the new system, fifty percent of seats in the lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly, will be awarded through closed-list proportional representation, while the other half will be awarded in two-seat districts.  This is a change from the draft law the SCAF put out where only one third of seats would be PR.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the extremely low threshold for entering parliament, which was placed at 1/2 of all national votes.

The new law also abolishes the 64 seats reserved for women, which was instituted before the last election in 2010. In its place is a provision that mandates every party list must include at least one female. Other changes in the law include lowering the age for candidate eligibility from 30 to 25, and stipulating that elections take place in three stages.

I can think of three major implications of the new laws.  Let’s start with the new PR tier.  The ordinal tier of seats will be divided into 58 constituencies, which for 252 seats (half of the 504 elected members) will create an average district magnitude of 4.3  That’s not very proportional; combined with the two seat districts this system still looks very majoritarian.   This makes the .5% threshold all the more bizarre.  As far as I know this would make Egypt’s threshold the lowest in the world, even more so than neighboring Israel.  While Israel’s one nationwide district allows for extreme party fragmentation, however, I don’t think Egypt’s threshold will have much impact.  Maybe Egypt’s planners read Carey and Hix’s recent paper, The Electoral Sweet Spot: Low-Magnitude Proportional Electoral Systems.  In the paper, the authors,  find an optimal district magnitude – around three to eight seats – which produces low party fragmentation while still retaining a level of proportionality associated with higher seats per district.  This sort of assumes, however, that the other half of seats aren’t awarded in the strange two-seat districts that Egypt’s will be.

The second, somewhat related point, is the impact this system will have on women’s representation.  Mandating one candidate per list be female is a weak stipulation.  With no requirement for where on the list the women has to be, it will be easy for a party to bury women at the bottom of their lists.  This incentive will only increase in small magnitude districts as it will become more likely that only the top one or two candidates will be elected.

As far as the three stages for elections go, I think this is also a bad idea.  The fear I have with this is it will give parties an incentive to call for a boycott after the first stage if they don’t like the results.  This could have the effect of delegitimizing an otherwise well-conducted election.  (I’m not assuming it will be of course).

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