Jordan – Electoral System Design in the Arab World

….Somewhat dated. I wonder if they still follow this system.


The electoral system issue has become the focus of one of the most heated and controversial debates in Jordan since multi-party politics was re-introduced by King Hussein. The November 1989 general election was conducted in an environment where political parties were banned, as had been the case since the early 1960s, but Muslim Brotherhood and pro-monarchist independents were easy to identify. For these elections, the first competitive ones for nearly thirty years, Jordan used the Block Vote electoral system, see Block Vote, which the British had utilised in the territory in the immediate post-war period, to elect their 80-member legislature. Out of these seats, eight were reserved for Christians and another three for Circassians, see Minority Provisions.

The country was divided into 20 constituencies, returning from two to nine MPs each, but the disparity in size between constituencies returning the same number of MPs was considerable. For example, both the Fifth District of Al-Assima and the constituency of Maan returned five members to the House of Deputies, but the Al-Assima district had over twice as many registered voters.

With the Block Vote system, voters had as many votes as there were seats to be filled within the district, but not all voters made use of all their votes. There was widespread belief that in the 1989 elections voters cast one or two votes for candidates with whom they had family or kinship ties, and then cast subsequent ballots for members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the pre-eminent Islamic political movement. Although the non-party political nature of these elections makes political analysis rather speculative, the University of Jordan has estimated that Muslim Brotherhood candidates won approximately 30 percent of the seats with less than 20 percent of the votes, independent Islamics won 16 percent of the seats, again with far fewer votes, while pro-monarchist candidates won nearly 60 percent of the total vote but only filled 40 percent of seats. These results led King Hussein to believe that the Block Vote gave advantages to Muslim Brotherhood candidates, the most organized and coherent political movement in the embryonic party system, over pro-monarchist independents.

It was for this reason that a new electoral system was introduced by Royal decree for the 1993 general elections; but at the same time Hussein lifted the ban on political parties, and this led to the emergence of a formal Islamic Action Front Party. Believing (probably correctly) that most Jordanian voters felt loyalty to family and kin first and to political ideology second, Hussein decided to maintain the multi-member districts but change the law to one where voters could only choose one candidate in their district. Thus, in a somewhat accidental manner, Jordan adopted the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV), see Single Non-Transferable Vote. In the Jordanian context SNTV is called “one man, one vote”, even though this terminology in other countries is primarily used to indicate the fundamental principle of equality between voters rather than a particular electoral system.

In 1993, participation increased slightly from the previous election, but it remained below 50 percent of the voting-age population. The decrease in the number of votes given to individuals forced all electors to consider what was their most important allegiance, political or otherwise. However, what was notable about the Jordanian House of Representatives elected in 1993 was that it contained a much more balanced and representative mix of party representatives and independents than had been previously the case. The Islamic Action Front won 20 percent of the seats with around 17 percent of the votes, Independent pro-monarchists won 60 percent of the seats with 58 percent of the votes, and smaller groupings of independent Islamists, Leftist, Nationalist, and Fateh Movement candidates won a handful of seats with a handful of votes. These results fit in well with the general expectation that SNTV should be much better than the Block Vote in providing a parliament which is relatively proportional to the vote distribution overall – a picture seen in other countries which use or have used SNTV, such as Japan from 1948 to 1995, see Japan – Electoral Reform, and Taiwan.

Nevertheless, the reduction in choice given to voters, combined with the running of a considerable number of Islamic Action Front candidates, led to frustration in a number of quarters over the electoral law changes. During the run-up to the 1997 elections there have been calls to return to the 1989 system of the Block Vote or to adopt a new proportional or mixed electoral system. However, it is likely that Jordan will remain one of only two current examples of an SNTV system (along with Vanuatu) until the end of the century.

Hey, I have Vanuatu Stamps and Coins. When I was a kid, Nauru and Vanuatu were two countries I always wanted to visit. Don’t ask me why!!

Getting back to the subject of this post, I am quite fascinated by the various electoral system possibilities available. In the context of yesterday’s posts, maybe we need a rethink on FPTP.

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Posted on May 18, 2004, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. So what’s the difference between the Single Non-Transferrable vote and FPTp (forgot what the expansion is)? Why is this better? Please explain with examples, I’m afraid my mind is not able to accept a new paradigm.

    • In SNTV systems, each elector has one vote, but there are several seats in the district to be filled, and the candidates with the highest number of votes fill these positions.

      Basically, FPTP (First Past the Post) Systems are “single member” districts – i.e. there is only seat to be filled in the district, and every voter is given one vote. In SNTV, while each voter is given one vote, there is more than one seat to be filled, i.e. “multi member” districts. In SNTV systems it is quite possible for a candidate to win, even if he polled only 20-25% of the votes. While this is possible in FPTP, it is generally unlikely to happen.

      Right now, I am not debating the merits of one system over the other. I don’t understand them fully either. Just reading up on the different systems available. Check out http://www.aceproject.org. There is a section on electoral systems which is very informative.

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