Event

Last month, Jordan held its parliamentary election in which the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) participated, unlike in the 2010 and 2013 elections. MB boycotted the parliamentary elections in the past in protest against a system where thinly populated rural areas, dominated by tribal politics, get more representation than populous cities, which tend to vote in favour of MB. Recent electoral changes introduced a form of proportional representation but only partly satisfied the demanded reforms. Nevertheless, the political wing of the MB, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), was determined to join this election. It runs together with Christians, women and national figures in a broader ‘reform’ coalition: the National Coalition for Reform (NCR). This strategy paid off as the IAF won 11 out of 130 seats, making it the largest party in terms of representation. International observers praised Jordan for holding relatively well-administered elections at a time of regional volatility. Nevertheless, officials said turnout was only 36%, lower than in the 2013 election. This can be explained by voters’ apathy and minimal confidence in a parliament with limited powers.

Impact on country risk

As Jordan’s most organised political party, the IAF emerged from the elections with renewed influence after surviving government attempts to ban it as part of a wider crackdown on political Islam. However, it is not likely that the gains will destabilise the monarchy of the Hashemite Kingdom. The parliament remains dominated by loyal tribal persons who rely on the monarchy for patronage and support. Moreover, the real power in Jordan sits with king Abdullah II, who rules since 1999. Indeed, the king can issue royal decrees without parliamentary scrutiny while the parliament cannot veto government policies or propose their own legislation or block or nominate cabinet positions. Parliament can amend legislation, but this may be vetoed by the Senate which is appointed by the monarch. Nevertheless, the IAF can grill the recently sworn-in government with the incumbent prime minister serving a second term and a slightly changed cabinet. It can also criticise government decisions such as the required subsidy cuts by the IMF programme to tackle persistent fiscal deficits (projected at -3.8% of GDP in 2016) and high public debt (94.4% of GDP estimated in 2016). Another example that will spark debate in parliament is the recent gas deal with Israel to reduce Jordan’s energy import bill as the country is suffering from high structural current account deficits (in 2016 a current account deficit of -12.5% of GDP (excluding official transfers) is expected). Overall, the new parliament is likely to bring livelier debate to what has been known as a rubber-stamp assembly addressing local rather than national concerns.

Analyst: Jolyn Debuysscher, j.debuysscher@credendogroup.com