CSOs optimistic about election commission expansion, question its capacity

تم نشره في Sun 21 September / Sep 2014. 11:21 PM - آخر تعديل في Mon 22 September / Sep 2014. 03:18 AM
  • The Independent Elections Commission Chairman Raid Shaka'a speaks about IEC's plans within expanded electoral role during the Identity Center's roundtable discussion on September 15, 2014 in Amman (By Alisa Reznick)

By Alisa Reznick

AMMAN - Last month, Parliament approved a constitutional amendment giving Jordan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) control over all the country’s elections. While local political organizations see it as a promising first step, many believe the road to fairer, more transparent elections is far from over.

The IEC discussed long and short term plans within the expanded role during a roundtable event last week hosted by Amman-based political think tank, the Identity Center.

Jordanians have largely supported an extension of power for the IEC, a point most of the roundtable’s participants agreed upon.

With a parliamentary election coming up in 2015, attendees saw the amendment as a chance for the IEC to recover the trust of voters and move toward a successful decentralization process in the municipalities.

Led by Identity Center Director Mohammed Hussainy, the event hosted seven keynote speakers including members of the Jordanian Parliament and Senate, members of several political parties and civil society organizations (CSO) and the Chairman of the IEC, Raid Shakaa.

In his statement, Shakaa said the commission plans to improve relations between political parties and government forces during elections, systemize training and conduct among IEC employees and gain more voter confidence in the country’s reformed electoral process.

Longer term plans included building the commission’s legal capacities and addressing gaps within the current system such as outdated voter records and flagrant voter fraud at the polls.

While CSOs and political party representatives praised the new amendment, many were concerned about the commission’s ability to assert its power in next year’s parliamentary election. And more importantly, to assert its integrity.

Among the key note speakers, the Islamic Action Front’s (IAF) Mousa Wahash was the most critical of the IEC’s current status.

Citing the Brotherhood’s past election boycotts, the IAF’s assistant secretary general for financial affairs said the party welcomed a power extension for the IEC, but believed the commission still had a long way to go.

“[The IEC] must regain the missed confidence in the election [process]. If there is no confidence, no trust, why vote?”

To do this, Wahash suggested more robust leadership within the commission and better organized voter records. He thought a now-matured and newly-empowered commission could be more efficient during next year’s elections, but regaining voter trust would require more autonomy from the Jordanian government.

The discussion opened to the rest of the attendees, hailing from various international and local political organizations in Jordan. Most said their organizations felt optimism in the IEC’s new role, but doubted its ability to both implement the changes set forth and instill confidence among voters in the transparency of the electoral process.

Like Wahash, several representatives stressed a need for IEC autonomy.

“The constitutional amendments are great, now we’re wondering what will happen after,” said Raid al-Azzam of the Citizenship Civil Association. “It needs to be independent in the full sense of the word. It doesn’t make sense to have four or five governors on staff.”

Another key note speaker was Mohammad Zawahra of the Youth Electronic Parliament, a youth organization comprised of social media activists based in Zarqa. 

He said past attempts to reform the electoral process failed to give an empowered voice to young people in Jordan.

Amid a swelling refugee community and limited employment opportunities, Zarqa’s young adults have been hit hard by economic strife and disempowerment in recent years. Zawahra said he hoped the new amendment would provide the political platform for young Jordanians that past reforms have failed to, warning of the possible consequences if it did not.

“All of these [past] reforms do not give a legitimate role to youth,” he said. “If [young people] are not given the opportunity to express themselves and their potential, you will have hundreds of ISIS followers [in Jordan].”

It’s been a precarious year for the IEC and its partners. Having now overseen a municipal and parliamentary election, the fledgling commission’s significance at the polls has at times been foggy and wrought with challenges.

The 2013 parliamentary election marked its first time overseeing the polls and the country’s first time allowing ballot box monitors. But the election itself came several months late amid opposition party threats to boycott polls over what they deemed as feeble democratic reforms.

Around 56.6% of those registered turned up to cast their vote, and Brotherhood members carried out the boycott. International rights groups, however, hailed the IEC’s management as a success.

Without an established legal role, the IEC took a backseat in monitoring the municipal elections in 2013, leaving the bulk of the responsibility to a pool of partner organizations that made up Identity Center-led Integrity Coalition for Election Observation.

For many voters, a deep mistrust of the electoral process still lingers. Political and civil groups believe the IEC’s power expansion can begin to help, but not without legislative changes and CSO support.

But despite setbacks in its first year, the IEC was praised for its development by roundtable speakers. As Dr. Mahmoud Al-Qudah of the Jordanian United Front said, at the least, the amendment would clarify IEC authority. 

“We all remember when the IEC was far from the elections because they said they didn’t have a law written,” he said. “Now they have that law in hand.”