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A Few Steps forward but still a way to go: New laws in Jordan addressing democratic participation

ARDD-Legal Aid

Democratic reforms in Jordan: The official democratic reform program launched in Jordan in the aftermath of the Arab spring aims at building a more participatory democratic culture in Jordanian decision making process and has led to the birth of several new laws which has been subject to heated public debate throughout 2015.

Three new laws passed and one still in process: For more than a year the proposed draft laws on Decentralization, Municipalities, Political Parties and new Election laws have been debated in the two houses of parliament and have been fiercely discussed in public debate. The bill on Decentralization law has received special attention and underwent several changes before it achieved final Royal approval in December. The new laws on Municipalities and Political parties were both passed during Autumn 2015, and the new Election law is currently undergoing discussions in Parliament.

Jordan in democratic pace? The new laws of Decentralization and Municipalities aim at increasing participation of local democracy in decision making by establishing new councils with an increased percentage of elected representatives. While on a central level, the new law on Political parties will lower the threshold for establishing parties. The Election draft law aims at replacing the unpopular one-vote electoral system in favor of a more proportional party-list system. This could be of democratic importance to opposition parties as the former system was a stumbling block for their participation.

Jordan’s electoral system has already been drastically changed three times over the last three election periods. This draft electoral law requires political parties and blocs to establish a candidate list for each district. The number of seats they get will vary proportionally to their total vote and the parliamentary seats will be filled from the basis of the part lists, which might encourage political parties rather than tribal alliances.

Women participation quota: Public debate has shed light on the issues of democratic participation, civic engagement and supporting political participation of women through each quota. The Women’s movement has pleaded for 30% of the women’s quota in all areas of public decision making in order to further engage women in democratic processes.
However the new laws have produced several set-backs for the quota system promoted by women’s rights activists. Some quotas have been removed and reduced while othersremain unchanged. The standing quotas involve one parliamentary seat per province, 15 % women quota in the elected Municipal councils and 10 % of the elected seats in the Governorate Councils.

ARDD-Legal Aid has been watching and analyzing these new laws with interest, because of the work we continue to do in the Political and Civic Participation Unit. Committed to a democratic and equal society, our work has long focused on increasing political participation of women throughout the Kingdom by addressing the structural as well as cultural barriers to their involvement. We believe that having more active, engaged and empowered women involved in the political sphere will make Jordan a stronger and more democratic society.

The establishment of a democratic culture where all women and men feel like they have an actual say in decision making is not the end result of these new laws. Hopefully what these recent legal developments portray is a genuine will to meet the popular demands for democratic participation in decisions that affect people’s everyday lives.

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