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Dilemma of political parties in Jordan

Oct 17,2017 - Last updated at Oct 17,2017

The dissolution of the Jordanian National Current Party by its founders has raised questions about the viability of political parties in Jordan.

This party, founded in 2009, was one of the largest in the country, with prominent founders and members who had previously occupied important positions in the government. As such, it was supposed to be strong. Its chances of survival, where many other smaller parties had successively been disappearing, were thought to be strong, too.

Until the early 1990s, political parties in Jordan were banned.  But when the law was radically amended to permit the formation of political parties, many started suddenly, and quite abruptly, to appear.

It was not a new Jordanian experiment with parties as several politically effective ones had existed earlier on until difficult regional and domestic circumstances required the imposition of martial law and suspension of existing parties at the time.

Most of those parties, however, were not native Jordanian, except perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood, which was an association rather than a party, and the Independence Party.

Others, such as the Communist Party, the Baath, the Arab Nationalist Movement — to mention just a few — were mostly offshoots of parties that existed abroad. Nevertheless, they were much more idea- and programme-oriented than many of the recent ones; thus quite rooted in the community.

The recent demise of the National Current Party, along with remarks from one of its main founders blaming the unsuitability of the Jordanian political climate for the rise of prosperous parties, has regenerated the debate on whether the Jordanian environment is really not that conducive to the rise of viable political parties as an integral part of a parliamentary system of government and alternation of power along the lines pursued in many thriving democracies.

It is not my intention here to address an issue that demands extensive examination. I will just offer a few related observations.

As well-known political parties grow around ideas, ideologies and/or political programmes tailored to appeal to citizens’ needs and living conditions, they derive support and even financing from their members’ subscription fees and donations.

Naturally, successful programmes attract more members and as such, stand better chances to win elections.

Parties compete and run on different tickets. Winners can either prove their credibility and the success of their handling of their followers’ interests and concerns, and therefore can win again or they fail and lose in the following round of elections.

This is the principle of alternation of power; parties take their chance alternately.

Strong political parties sustain defeat and remain in the system indefinitely, unless other factors cause total retreat.

Most of the political parties that appeared in Jordan following the lifting of the ban were artificial structures built around individuals hoping to claim a share in the next government.

And because they did not have broad popular bases to rely upon, they either returned to the clan or the tribe for support, an option that annuls the very principle of party politics, or sought government support in return for committing to be steadily on the government’s side on all issues, which also contradicts the entire idea of parliamentary supervision of government’s function.

Parties which based their calculations on quick wins, such as participating in government by occupying seats in the Cabinet, retreated at the first defeat, and slowly elapsed. Others survived a little longer, but again, in the end, they neither managed to find the means to sustain their existence, nor did they succeed in making any convincing accomplishments to encourage additional members. They faced the same fate.

Actually the idea of having an adequate number of party members, willing to make financial contributions and adhere to the party principles, had hardly sank in.

Most parties collected names to complete licensing requirements and qualify for subsidies. This did not prove to be a successful scheme for creating viable parties.

That, however, does not mean that Jordan is not a suitable place for the rise of political parties, or that Jordanians are different from citizens of other countries where political parties function efficiently.

The fact is, it is a stage. Eventually political parties will rise along the proper lines.

Already groups, parliamentary blocs, appear in the House of Representatives and adopt certain political positions. They fluctuate, but the trend is moving in a promising direction.

Our democracy is not that young. But it continues to mature and develop.  To reach the point where people would voluntarily commit to a sturdy party system takes time. It also requires a great deal of stability and peace of mind.

If that applies domestically it does not apply to the turbulent situation in the surrounding region. The impact of the many crises in our neighbourhood remains heavy and has consequences.

 

Hopefully we will get through that.

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