The 1993 elections in Jordan.

Author:Amawi, Abla M.

In November 1993, Jordanians went to the polls to elect the lower house of parliament (the Chamber of Deputies) for the second time since the onset of liberalization in the late 1980s.(1) Some 821,000 of 1,203,329 registered voters (68%) cast ballots in a generally free election,(2) a 4.7% increase over the number of persons voting in the previous elections of November 1989.(3) A total of 536 candidates representing numerous parties, tendencies, and tribes competed for the 80 seats. Yet despite the greater attention devoted to the ground-breaking 1989 elections, the first since liberalization and one of the first nation-wide indications of the strength of Islamic political trends, the recent elections marked a more significant development in Jordanian politics and warrant closer scrutiny. Three issues account for this significance: the new legal atmosphere in which the elections were held, the changing nature of campaigning and political maneuvering engendered by the democratic experiment, and the conceptualization of political identity in Jordan which was revealed by the outcome.


The 1993 elections marked an important step in the consolidation of Jordanian democracy because they were the first held in the new and liberalized legal atmosphere forged during four years of the democratic experience which began in 1989. While the 1989 balloting was regarded as free, the elections were nonetheless held under the terms of martial law, including the ban on legal political parties and restrictions on the press. Thanks to the Political Parties Law of September 1992 and the Press and Publications Law of December 1992, the 1993 elections were the first national elections in which political parties were allowed to campaign legally and relatively freely since the elections of 1956, the last before parties were banned in 1957.

The elections were also significant because of an important change in the way in which voters selected candidates. The increased number of eligible/registered voters over the 1989 elections is partially explained by the number of Jordanian citizens returning from the Gulf countries following the Gulf War (about 100,000 returnees registered to vote)(4) and increased trust in the regime and its attempts at democratization. Yet a vital factor in the increase was the introduction, in August 1993, of a "one-person, one-vote" formula into the Election Law, changing the former system of multiple votes. This change led politicians as well as kinship units such as tribes and clans to feel that they stood a better chance at winning seats under the new law by mobilizing their kin/affiliates to vote. This in turn led to a concerted effort to register voters, collect voting cards, and prompt voters to actually cast ballots.

In fact, the change introduced into the election law was one of the major factors influencing the election results. The law in effect during the 1989 elections designated a specific number of seats for each of the country's twenty electoral districts, and gave each voter a number of votes equal to the number of seats designated for his/her district. Thus, the voter in Amman's second District cast three ballots for the three designated seats in that district, while a voter in the Irbid governorate voted for nine candidates corresponding to its nine designated seats. By contrast, the change in the electoral law allowed only one vote for each voter, regardless of the number of seats designated for his/her district. Therefore a voter in Amman's second district would vote only for one candidate under the new law. The three candidates who received the highest votes in that district were seated in parliament. Because of this new situation, the nature of campaigning and tactics was also changed (see below).

Despite the seemingly progressive nature of the new "one person, one vote" formula, a narrower political agenda is discernable when one considers that the amendment to the Election Law was introduced by the government to improve the fortunes of candidates representing pro-regime constituencies and to weaken well-organized groups. The method by which the amendment was introduced underscores this point: shortly after King Hussein dismissed parliament in anticipation of the elections, the government issued the decree on the basis of an emergency powers clause in the constitution. The new "one person, one vote" formula was widely perceived as a maneuver which would hinder the Muslim Brotherhood's ability to repeat its stunning showing in 1989, and was bitterly opposed by the Brotherhood and most political parties.

What the amendment did not change was equally important for shoring up the regime's support in parliament. Aspects of the Law which worked in its favor were left intact. For instance, each of the twenty electoral districts was left with the same number of seats as before. However, the population of those districts had changed. To return to Amman's second district and the Irbid governorate, the former still elected three persons (with a population of 391,849) while Irbid (with a population of 390,685) had nine seats in parliament. If the number of designated seats was representative of population size based on the official ratio of population to seats, then both should send ten representatives.(5)

Furthermore, that aspect of the Law which assigned a disproportionate number of seats to "loyal" rural areas and minority groups rather than to the more politically hostile urban areas was left intact. This is conspicuous once again when one compares the three seats assigned to Amman's second district (which incidently has a high percentage of politically-active Palestinian residents)(6) with the five seats allocated to the southern town of Ma'an, only one-fifth as large (population: 79,090) and a traditionally solid base of East Bank support for the regime. Nor did the amendment remove the seats reserved for minorities (Christian Arabs and non-Arab, Muslim Circassians and Shishans) and bedouin tribes, quotas that give these groups - once again, groups traditionally perceived as loyal subjects - greater representation in parliament than their numbers would warrant.

A second vital change in the legal atmosphere was the passage of the Political Parties Law of September 1992. The Law allowed parties to petition for legal status for the first time since 1957. By election day, 20 parties had been licensed, most of which fielded candidates but not openly. Despite this dramatic change in the Jordanian political scene, its effects were not immediately felt during the balloting because the parties had little time to organize themselves and mobilize support. What is more, most campaigning was not carried out on the basis of party platforms (see below).

Lastly, the 1993 elections were significant in that candidates could at last print and distribute publications under the terms of the Press and Publications Law of December 1992. Again, the law was more significant as a symbol of the ongoing process of democratization than for its effect on the elections for the same reasons cited above.


The introduction of "one person, one vote" had several ramifications on the manner in which the election campaign was conducted, as well as on how voters cast their ballots. During the 1989 campaign, when voters had multiple votes, candidates focused on alliance-building and joint lists of candidates (for the Muslim, Christian, and Circassian/Shishan seats in a given district, for instance) to increase their chances of winning. For example, in districts where Christians were guaranteed a seat, the Muslim Brotherhood allied with certain Christian candidates, instructing its supporters to east one of their multiple votes for the Brotherhood-backed Christian candidate. In this way, the Brotherhood would win one or more of the Muslim seats, plus perhaps the Christian seat as well (via its Christian ally). Through such maneuvers, the Brotherhood and other candidates increased their chances of winning since the voters had the luxury of choosing their favorite candidate (in most cases, a member of their tribe/clan or party) and then paid their dues to their political favorites (their allies, co-religionists, etc.). However...

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