As violence continued in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and elsewhere in the region last week, Jordan managed to hold boringly quiet elections for the kingdom's 17th Lower House of Parliament. These came out as expected, with most of the winning candidates being non-ideological and representing clans. While the king was allegedly seeking a new approach to involve parliament in the naming of the next prime minister and in the formation of the cabinet, the new legislature looks worryingly like its predecessors – largely made up of individuals with few ties to political groups.
The result is a more or less apolitical legislature that will not get in the way of the serious business of ruling the country and preserving its role as a strategic Western ally and asset. A senior regional election-observer summed things up when he told me privately after the results were announced that the regime "got what it wanted."
The reaction in the country was mute. The few minor post-election riots that did take place were contained via tribal mediation, and the capital Amman was miraculously cleared of campaign posters within three days of the vote – with allegedly 4,100 tons of rubbish thrown away.
Cynics of course might say that it was all garbage from the beginning. For a start, there was blatant gerrymandering of the mostly multi-member constituencies. In these, voters got to elect one person only, resulting in the success of candidates with the larger clan following. The inevitable result was thus a heavy bias in favor of tribal non-ideologues who could be counted on to continue playing the political game as the regime expects.
To help overcome this systemic bias of all previous parliaments since 1993, the outgoing parliament – with the King’s backing – introduced a new National List for the first time. Under this system, 27 individuals were elected based upon national political lines, rather than local constituencies. Despite this, many of these lists were simply the clients of the tribal leaders who head the groupings. These seats ended up being filled by candidates from a score of lists, thus contributing to the fragmentation that will leave the new House of Representatives as putty in the executive branch's hands (the Senate, the other branch of Jordan's parliament, is appointed directly by the king, so there are no problems there).
However, the whole exercise was not necessarily bad. The poll was more or less free and transparent, with most people exercising their right to vote without coercion. This was attested to by most of the more than 7,400 local and international election observers who monitored the poll, in addition to several hundred guests from outside the country who included foreign diplomats and other officials.
And even the more cynical among Jordanians couldn't fail to note the election of a record 18 women – up from 13 – about an eighth of the 150-seat Lower House's members. Fifteen of these won through the women’s quota already built into the election law in previous polls, two won by direct competition in the 108 constituency seats, and one other won via National Lists, eight of the winners having had previous parliamentary experience. In Jordan's current situation, this small step forward by and for women is good.
Despite an electoral system that amplifies family, tribal and national divisions, limits the development of a true legislative body, and challenges the stated aim of encouraging full parliamentary government, the overall exercise was positive compared with the 2007 and 2010 elections.
So, as foreseen in the government's plans, Jordan's "reformist" tale is boring the local audience with promises of stability, rather than titillating them with hints of major change. Yet, the current Jordanian crisis – like that of the other countries of the region – is an existential one, so this tinkering with the current system may eventually not work. As the current regional situation deteriorates, Jordan could come under more serious strain; in that case a business-as-usual attitude as exemplified in these elections won't be enough to save the country's political system.
Riad al Khouri is a Jordanian economist and a principal of DEA Inc, in Washington DC